Monthly Archives: May 2019

Global electricity access up but sustainable development goals are not being met

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A new report produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) and released this week says that despite significant progress in recent years, the world is falling short of meeting the global energy targets set in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030.

Ensuring affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 remains possible but will require more sustained efforts, particularly to reach some of the world’s poorest populations and to improve energy sustainability, according to the report.

Notable progress has been made on energy access in recent years, with the number of people living without electricity dropping to roughly 840 million from 1 billion in 2016 and 1.2 billion in 2010. India, Bangladesh, Kenya and Myanmar are among countries that made the most progress since 2010.

However, without more sustained and stepped-up actions, 650 million people will still be left without access to electricity in 2030. Nine out of 10 of them will be living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Following a decade of steady progress, the global electrification rate reached 89 percent and 153 million people gained access to electricity each year. However, the biggest challenge remains in the most remote areas globally and in sub-Saharan Africa where 573 million people still live in the dark.

[Renewable Energy World]

South Korean aid for North Korea

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South Korea has vowed to move quickly on its plans to provide $8 million worth of humanitarian aid to North Korea through international organizations and is also considering sending food to the country that says it’s suffering its worst drought in decades.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Monday it will discuss its plans with the World Food Program and the United Nations Children’s Fund so the aid reaches North Korean children and pregnant women quickly.

Seoul hopes the aid will help revive diplomacy and engagement with Pyongyang that tapered off amid a stalemate in nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea. But Seoul has yet to decide on concrete plans amid public frustration over recent North Korean missile tests.
[AP]

Lowest rainfall in 100 years in North Korea leaves millions at risk of starvation

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North Korea’s worst drought in decades is being driven by the lowest rainfall in a century, according to the country’s official state newspaper.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper—the official publication of Kim Jong Un’s ruling party—blamed the ongoing drought on lower than expected levels of precipitation. The newspaper said North Korea received just 56.3 millimeters (2.21 inches) of rain or snow from January to May 15, the lowest amount since 1917. The article noted that water was running out in the country’s lakes and reservoirs, and explained the lack of rainfall “is causing a significant effect on the cultivation of wheat, barley, corn, potatoes and beans,” according to Al Jazeera.

Yonhap reported that South Korean authorities are preparing to send food to North Korea if the situation deteriorates. Any food aid may give a shot in the arm to stalled negotiations between the North, South and U.S. on the denuclearization of the peninsula and the lifting of sanctions, the agency noted.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme (WFP) said more than 10 million North Koreans—representing some 40 percent of the national population—were already facing severe food shortages. Such an extensive drought will likely exacerbate such food pressures, leaving many at risk of starvation. The report said that North Koreans have been surviving on just 300g (10.5 oz) of food each day so far this year. During a visit to South Korea earlier this week, WFP Executive Director David Beasely told reporters the body has “very serious concerns” about the situation in North Korea.

Last week, Mohamed Babiker, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ North Korea office, said the organization was “particularly concerned about the impact that this early drought will have on children and adults who are already struggling to survive. Even before this drought, one in five children under 5 years old was stunted because of poor nutrition. We are concerned that these children will not be able to cope with further stress on their bodies.”

Thus far, there is no suggestion the drought could spark a famine as severe as the one that is believed to have killed millions of North Koreans in the 1990s.

[Newsweek]

Bill Nye’s blowtorch talk on climate change

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Science popularizer Bill Nye told viewers of a popular American late-night show that Earth is “on [expletive] fire”, while lighting a globe with a blowtorch!

During his appearance on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” on May 12, Nye used frank language to talk to millennials about the impacts of global warming on Earth.

“By the end of this century, if temperatures keep rising, the average temperature on Earth could go up another 4 to 8 degrees,” Nye said to Oliver. (Nye was referring to degrees Celsius; the equivalent change in Fahrenheit is roughly 7 to 14 degrees). “What I’m saying is, the planet’s on [expletive] fire.”

He explained that addressing climate change means making tough choices in our daily lives to reduce carbon emissions, which are caused by activities such as driving vehicles or burning coal. These emissions produce greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere — warming the planet up, causing ocean levels to rise as glaciers melt, and increasing the severity of hurricanes and storms.

Nye, adding a few more expletives in his explanation, said none of these options to address global warming come free. So, he urged his viewers to grow up and make tough choices. “I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12, but you’re adults now. This is an actual crisis — got it?”

Nye is best known for more family-friendly content, such as PBS’s “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in the 1990s and, more recently, the Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World.”

[Space]

1 in 7 of all babies born worldwide too small

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More than 20 million babies were born with a low birthweight (less than 2500g / 5.5 pounds) in 2015—around one in seven of all births worldwide according to the first-ever estimates documenting this major health challenge. These findings and more are documented in a new research paper developed by experts from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, published in The Lancet Global Health.

More than 80% of the world’s 2.5 million newborns who die every year are of low birthweight. Those low birthweight babies who survive have a greater risk of stunting, and developmental and physical ill health later in life, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Low birthweight is a complex clinical entity…,” says co-author Dr Mercedes de Onis from the Department of Nutrition at WHO. “This is why reducing low birthweight requires an understanding of the underlying causes in a given country. For example, in Southern Asia a large proportion of low birthweight babies are born at term but with intrauterine growth restriction, which is associated with maternal undernutrition, including maternal stunting.

“Conversely, preterm birth is the major contributor to low birthweight in settings with many adolescent pregnancies, high prevalence of infection, or where pregnancy is associated with high levels of fertility treatment and caesarean sections (like in USA and Brazil). Understanding and tackling these underlying causes in high-burden countries should be a priority.”

Affordable, accessible and appropriate health-care is critical for preventing and treating low birthweight. Reductions in death, illness and disability in newborn babies will only be achieved if pregnancy care is fully integrated with appropriate care for low birthweight babies.

[World Health Organization]

Carbon dioxide levels reach highest in human history

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Over the weekend, the climate system sounded simultaneous alarms. Near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius). Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eclipsed 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.

By themselves, these are just data points. But taken together with so many indicators of an altered atmosphere and rising temperatures, they blend into the unmistakable portrait of human-induced climate change.

Saturday’s steamy 84-degree reading was posted in Arkhangelsk, Russia, where the average high temperature is around 54 this time of year. In Koynas, a rural area to the east of Arkhangelsk, it was even hotter on Sunday, soaring to 87 degrees (31 Celsius). Many locations in Russia, from the Kazakhstan border to the White Sea, set record-high temperatures over the weekend, some 30 to 40 degrees (around 20 Celsius) above average. The warmth also bled west into Finland, which hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) Saturday, the country’s warmest temperature of the season so far.

Meanwhile, in Greenland, the ice sheet’s melt season began about a month early. In Alaska, several rivers saw winter ice break up on their earliest dates on record.

Data from the Japan Meteorological Agency show April was the second warmest on record for the entire planet.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold. Saturday’s carbon dioxide measurement of 415 parts per million at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory is the highest in at least 800,000 years and probably over 3 million years. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that, along with the rise of several other such heat-trapping gases, is the primary cause of climate warming in recent decades, scientists have concluded.

Eighteen of the 19 warmest years on record for the planet have occurred since 2000, and we keep observing these highly unusual and often record-breaking high temperatures. They won’t stop soon, but cuts to greenhouse emissions would eventually slow them down.

[The Washington Post]

Over 90,000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon

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Officials from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said about 90,000 Nigerian refugees in neighboring Cameroon “are safe” and will soon return, be airlifted by the Nigerian Air Force.

The refugees, mostly from Borno State in the northeast of the country, were displaced by the unending Boko Haram insurgency.

The Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria has led to about 100,000 deaths since 2009, according to the Borno State Government.

The terror group, which has been largely decimated since 2015, seeks to impose strict Islamic law in Northern Nigeria.

[Premium Times]

More than one million people in Gaza – half of the population – may not have enough food by June!

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Unless UNRWA secures at least an additional US$ 60 million by June, their ability to continue providing food to more than 1 million Palestine refugees in Gaza, including some 620,000 abject poor – those who cannot cover their basic food needs and who have to survive on US$ 1.6 per day – and nearly 390,000 absolute poor – those who survive on about US$ 3.5 per day – will be severely challenged.

“This is a near ten-fold increase caused by the blockade that lead to the closure of Gaza and its disastrous impact on the local economy, the successive conflicts that razed entire neighborhoods and public infrastructure to the ground, and the ongoing internal Palestinian political crisis that started in 2007 with the arrival of Hamas to power in Gaza,” said Matthias Schmale, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza.

Moreover, the tragic death of 195 Palestinians – including 14 students from UNRWA schools and the long-lasting physical and psychological injuries of 29,000 people during the year-long demonstrations known as the Great March of Return – come after three devastating conflicts in Gaza since 2009, which resulted in at least 3790 deaths and more than 17,000 injuries combined.

A report issued by the United Nations in 2017 predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by the year 2020. 

[Read full UNRWA article]

Google offers tech aid to take on humanitarian crises

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Frontier technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence have revolutionized Google’s business, and now the tech company is looking to share the wealth with those that need it most: people on the front lines of humanitarian crises.

From among 2,600 applicants, 20 winning nonprofits and social enterprises walked away from Google’s AI Impact Challenge with access to a pool of $25 million in funding, expertise from “Googlers,” and a shot to mitigate humanitarian challenges in their local communities.

“We want to see if we can help make the world a better place by bringing the best of Google,” said Jacquelline Fuller, vice president of Google, and president of the company’s humanitarian arm, Google.org. “We look at issues and see where do we think we could have a differential impact. And so some of those areas include economic opportunity, the future of work, thinking about how to bring digital skilling to millions across the globe.”

This year’s winners include the American University of Beirut, which is developing a tool to help Middle Eastern and African farmers save water; Eastern Health of Australia, which uses machine learning to identify patterns in suicide attempts for more effective prevention; and Hand Talk, a startup that is using AI to translate Portuguese into sign language for disadvantaged, deaf Brazilians.

Fuller said the project helps unite tech companies, civil society, and governments to ensure “everyone has access to the benefits of this technology, and that we are applying it to the problems that really matter most to humanity.”

[Cheddar]

Dozens drown as migrant boat capsizes off Tunisia

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At least 65 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have died after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Tunisia, the UN refugee agency says. Some reports put the number on board higher so the toll could rise. Sixteen people were rescued, UNHCR said in a statement.

About 164 people have died on the route between Libya and Europe in the first four months of 2019, UNHCR figures show.

The Tunisian Navy dispatched a ship as soon as it heard about the incident and came across a fishing boat picking up survivors, a statement from the Tunisian defense ministry said.

Thousands of migrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe every year, and Libya is a key departure point.  Those who make the journey often travel in poorly maintained and overcrowded ships, and many have died.

[BBC]