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News Article | January 1, 2016
Site: http://www.techtimes.com/rss/sections/science.xml

Aid agencies have warned against increasing threats of hunger, disease, and war in 2016 with the strongest El Niño weather cycle on record. The natural weather event, which helped seal 2015's position as the world's warmest year, is set to worsen droughts in certain areas and flooding in others. Africa will be hard hit with about 31 million hounded by food shortage, and one-third situated in Ethiopia where 10.2 million are estimated to require humanitarian help. While food insecurity in Africa is expected to be at its peak in February, regions that include Central and South America and the Caribbean will experience El Niño in the coming six months. University of Reading Dr. Nick Klingaman said, depending on measurements, this will be the strongest El Niño on record books. "In a lot of tropical countries we are seeing big reductions in rainfall of the order of 20-30 percent," he said, citing Indonesia's bad case of drought, Indian monsoon being 15 percent below normal, and forecasted reduced monsoons for Brazil and Australia. The current El Niño is the most forceful since 1998, anticipated to be one of the three most powerful ever. The World Meteorological Organization said that the peak three-month average surface temperatures of water in tropical Pacific regions, for instance, are projected to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal. NASA warned that this current brewing in the Pacific has no signs of letting up, as viewed from the latest satellite image from the Jason-2 mission. The latest image maintains a "striking resemblance" to one from December in 1997 by Jason-2's predecessor during the last massive El Niño event - both reflecting the classic pattern of a completely developed El Niño. "The images show nearly identical, unusually high sea surface heights along the equator in the central and eastern Pacific: the signature of a big and powerful El Niño," said NASA, pointing out the higher-than-usual sea surface heights that indicate a thick warm water layer. In this naturally occurring phenomenon happening every two to seven years, warm waters of the central Pacific expand eastwards heading to North and South America. It typically peaks late in the calendar year, although the impacts can be felt until the spring and up to 12 full months. In the United States, many of the largest El Niño impacts are expected in early next year, with several relatively cool and wet months across the southern U.S. and relatively warm, dry conditions over the northern part. Drought-stricken California and the West can experience some relief, but watch out: in 1982-83 and 1997-98 El Niño events, there were around twice the average rainfall amount in Southern Cali, with ensuing floods, mudslides, high winds, high surf, and lightning strikes. El Niño events are usually followed by La Niña, which can bring opposite but similarly risky effects. As in the 1998 El Niño, the heat transfer tends to be trailed by an ocean cooling, a La Niña onset. Dr. Klingaman said it is possible that at this time in 2016, the world could be seeing the opposite of many El Niño impacts. "In places where we are seeing droughts from El Nino, we could be seeing flooding from La Nina next year," he explained, dubbing it as disruptive either way. The United Nations stressed that it is crucial to ensure security for El Niño-affected populations. "Only by protecting and stabilizing vulnerable countries can we ensure people are not forced to leave their homes in search of food or a new livelihood," the agency said, pinpointing the 60 million people already forced to leave their homes due to conflict. To aid agencies like Oxfam, the worry is the continuing El Niño exacerbating existing stresses such as the wars in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan. Existing food shortages, too, are expected to worsen in Southern Africa, with Malawi estimated to have nearly 3 million requiring humanitarian aid before March. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua are also already bearing the brunt of drought and rain shortages, while further flooding is expected to strike in Central America in January. "Millions of people in places like Ethiopia, Haiti and Papua New Guinea are already feeling the effects of drought and crop failure," said Oxfam's Jane Cocking. She said other mass-scale emergencies should not be allowed to develop in other places, as the world cannot cope while it responds to emerging portents in Latin America and Southern Africa. Food prices in developed nations, too, will bear the consequences, with staple food prices rising by up to 10 percent and crops such as rice, coffee, sugar, and cocoa specifically getting affected.


News Article | April 5, 2016
Site: http://www.fastcompany.com

The tiny village of Neiden, Norway, isn't usually a place that people visit in January. Far north of the Arctic Circle, it might be 25 degrees below 0 on a cold day. Apart from a handful of homes, and a lot of snow, there's nothing there. But this winter, the Hotel Neiden was full. The hotel, a bare-bones lodge, was the temporary home of 96 refugees, some of the 5,500 people who crossed the border from Russia into Norway late last year. While most refugees from Syria and Afghanistan come to Europe by sea—since the beginning of 2015, more than 1 million people have come to Greece from Turkey alone—a fraction have taken the northern route instead. It's cheaper, and somewhat safer, although so cold that at least one person waiting to cross the border into nearby Finland froze to death. Photographer Alessandro Iovino decided to document the experience of those traveling through Russia. "As a photographer, I thought I had the responsibility to understand a little better the situation of the refugees—this migration," he says. "But I wanted to do it in an original way." The thousands of rubber boats landing in Greece had been well covered. So when Iovino heard that some refugees were crossing from Russia instead, he tried to find them, traveling to Moscow to follow their path. "What I aimed was to try to make the same effort they made—try to walk the same long distances," he says. From the Russian city of Murmansk, refugees were heading north to a small mining town called Nikel, and then paying someone to help them cross the border. For most people, that involved buying a bike: It's illegal to cross the border on foot under Russian law, and illegal for drivers to bring undocumented immigrants in a car under Norwegian law. But riding a bike was a loophole—at least until the Norwegian government started automatically deporting anyone who crossed without a transit visa. By late January, Russia closed its border with Norway. The refugees in the photographs at the Hotel Neiden made it before the border closed, and were sent to the hotel by officials. Once there, they had nothing to do but wait. The village is literally almost empty. "There's no supermarket, no petrol station, nothing," says Iovino. "What they really do during the day is nothing, watching TV and waiting. They can't even say I'm going outside, because it's too cold . . . they want to go to school, they want to start a life. That's why they came to Norway." The hotel is one of six refugee centers in the region, all privately run and getting a stipend from the government. The centers often lack enough basic supplies. "They give you food, which is not enough for a cat," says Mansour Hanna Youssef, who stayed at the hotel until he was sent to another center nearby. Youssef wanted to work, and when he made it to a slightly larger town, he begged for a job. "We went to supermarkets, and I said, 'We just want to work for food,'" he says. "Not money, just give us food. They said, 'No, we cannot do that.'" By February, Norway reached an agreement with Russia to start sending refugees back, despite objections from human rights groups that argued Russia would just deport them back to the unsafe countries, such as Syria, that they were originally fleeing. In 2015, more than 30,000 people applied for asylum in Norway; 10,000 of those were from Syria, and almost 7,000 from Afghanistan. In the beginning of the year, most applications were granted. But that quickly changed. Now, the majority of applicants are deported. At the same time, Norway has contributed generously to refugee relief elsewhere (it gave 385% of what Oxfam consider a country's "fair share" in 2015; the U.S. gave 76% of its share). But many wonder why a country as rich as Norway—with a per capita GDP twice that of the U.S.—can't also help support those who have crossed its borders. It's a question many have about Europe as a whole, which started sending refugees in Greece back to Turkey on April 4. Doctors Without Borders called the plan so inhumane that it pulled out of Lesvos in protest. The EU plans to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey in return. But the UNHCR argues that sending others back en masse is a violation of international law. Some, like Youssef, ended up going back to Syria from Norway voluntarily; he says he is one of the lucky few in a position where that was even a possibility. "Thank God I'm alright, but not for so long," he says. "Probably I'll have to ride the sea again if the situation is not solved in this country."


News Article
Site: http://www.reuters.com

A Zimbabwean man, Graham Matanhire, harvests maize from a field in a peri-urban suburb of Mabvuku in Harare, April 10, 2014. The drought, which extends to South Africa, the continent's biggest maize producer, has been exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern and follows dry spells last year that affected countries from Zimbabwe to Malawi. Aid agency Oxfam has said 10 million people, mostly in Africa, face hunger because of droughts and poor rains. That has brought GM crops to the fore, especially maize, a staple crop grown and consumed in most sub-Saharan countries. Many African countries have banned GM crops, arguing that they will cross contaminate other plants, pollute the environment and could have long-term health effects for humans. Zimbabwe, for instance, says although GM crops may initially be resistant to pests, the resistance could breakdown over time. GMO advocates, however, say the fears are not scientifically proven, adding that poor African farmers are likely to benefit most from reduced use of pesticides, lower production costs, higher yields and high prices for crops. The African drought's impact is particularly serious for Zimbabwe, where the economy has struggled for five years to recover from a catastrophic recession marked by billion percent hyperinflation and widespread food shortages. Zimbabwe does not accept GM maize imports, and when it has accepted emergency GM maize aid, it has been milled under security watch. "GM crops are one of the alternative solutions for reducing hunger on the continent among many others which include good agronomic practices," Jonathan Mufandaedza, chief executive at National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe, a government agency, told Reuters. The United States, Brazil and India are the world's largest growers of GM crops while in Africa, South Africa is the only country producing GM maize on a commercial scale. Sixteen percent of Zimbabwe's population require food aid this year. The government plans to import up to 700,000 tonnes of maize and with its usual sources of maize like Zambia and Tanzania facing lower harvests this year, Zimbabwe could end up receiving GM maize after all. This year, South Africa, which produces more than 40 percent of Southern African maize may need to import up to 5 million tonnes of maize due to drought, the country's largest producer group, Grain SA said this week. Perceptions are shifting, with Burkina Faso in West Africa, and lately Sudan having started to grow GM cotton commercially, Getachew Belay, an African expert on GM crops told Reuters. "Historically, Africa has been a laggard to accept new agricultural technologies. For GM crops, much of the problem lies in the perception, exaggerated fear and conflicting messages sent to policy making," said Belay. In 2002, Zambia experienced a severe drought that left millions in need of food aid but it rejected GM maize offered by donors, citing inadequate scientific information. But last month, Zambia's Higher Education Minister Michael Kaingu told parliament his country was embracing GM crops. "We recognize that modern biotechnology has advanced worldwide and, as a nation, we cannot afford to ignore the benefits of this technology. We are alert and prepared to deal with possible adverse risks," said Kaingu. It is a growing trend on the continent and Belay said Ethiopia had amended its biosafety laws to allow tests on GM cotton, thanks to pressure from the textile industry that is advocating for the production of cheaper cotton in that country. Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Swaziland, Nigeria and Ghana have all been carrying out trials on different GM crops, he said. Agrichemicals groups such as Monsanto , the world's largest seed company, and Syngenta are well placed to benefit from increased use of GMOs in Africa. Monsanto conducted trials of GM maize and cotton in some African countries, including Zimbabwe between 2001 and 2005. But the transition from tests to commercial growing has been slow, a reminder of the die hard attitudes towards GM crops. Belay said a major factor that could influence Africa to start growing GM maize was whether China would grow GM rice, which it has developed but not released for production. "The real issue seems to me is lack of capacity, both physical and human, to enforce regulation, thus attitude is changing from 'rejection' to a kind of 'wait until we have capacity to regulate!'," said Belay.


News Article
Site: http://news.yahoo.com/science/

A Zimbabwean man, Graham Matanhire, harvests maize from a field in a peri-urban suburb of Mabvuku in Harare, April 10, 2014. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo More HARARE (Reuters) - A scorching drought in Southern Africa that led to widespread crop failure could nudge African nations to finally embrace genetically modified (GM) crops to improve harvests and reduce grain imports. The drought, which extends to South Africa, the continent's biggest maize producer, has been exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern and follows dry spells last year that affected countries from Zimbabwe to Malawi. Aid agency Oxfam has said 10 million people, mostly in Africa, face hunger because of droughts and poor rains. That has brought GM crops to the fore, especially maize, a staple crop grown and consumed in most sub-Saharan countries. Many African countries have banned GM crops, arguing that they will cross contaminate other plants, pollute the environment and could have long-term health effects for humans. Zimbabwe, for instance, says although GM crops may initially be resistant to pests, the resistance could breakdown over time. GMO advocates, however, say the fears are not scientifically proven, adding that poor African farmers are likely to benefit most from reduced use of pesticides, lower production costs, higher yields and high prices for crops. The African drought's impact is particularly serious for Zimbabwe, where the economy has struggled for five years to recover from a catastrophic recession marked by billion percent hyperinflation and widespread food shortages. Zimbabwe does not accept GM maize imports, and when it has accepted emergency GM maize aid, it has been milled under security watch. "GM crops are one of the alternative solutions for reducing hunger on the continent among many others which include good agronomic practices," Jonathan Mufandaedza, chief executive at National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe, a government agency, told Reuters. The United States, Brazil and India are the world's largest growers of GM crops while in Africa, South Africa is the only country producing GM maize on a commercial scale. Sixteen percent of Zimbabwe's population require food aid this year. The government plans to import up to 700,000 tonnes of maize and with its usual sources of maize like Zambia and Tanzania facing lower harvests this year, Zimbabwe could end up receiving GM maize after all. This year, South Africa, which produces more than 40 percent of Southern African maize may need to import up to 5 million tonnes of maize due to drought, the country's largest producer group, Grain SA said this week. Perceptions are shifting, with Burkina Faso in West Africa, and lately Sudan having started to grow GM cotton commercially, Getachew Belay, an African expert on GM crops told Reuters. "Historically, Africa has been a laggard to accept new agricultural technologies. For GM crops, much of the problem lies in the perception, exaggerated fear and conflicting messages sent to policy making," said Belay. In 2002, Zambia experienced a severe drought that left millions in need of food aid but it rejected GM maize offered by donors, citing inadequate scientific information. But last month, Zambia's Higher Education Minister Michael Kaingu told parliament his country was embracing GM crops. "We recognize that modern biotechnology has advanced worldwide and, as a nation, we cannot afford to ignore the benefits of this technology. We are alert and prepared to deal with possible adverse risks," said Kaingu. It is a growing trend on the continent and Belay said Ethiopia had amended its biosafety laws to allow tests on GM cotton, thanks to pressure from the textile industry that is advocating for the production of cheaper cotton in that country. Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Swaziland, Nigeria and Ghana have all been carrying out trials on different GM crops, he said. Agrichemicals groups such as Monsanto , the world's largest seed company, and Syngenta are well placed to benefit from increased use of GMOs in Africa. Monsanto conducted trials of GM maize and cotton in some African countries, including Zimbabwe between 2001 and 2005. But the transition from tests to commercial growing has been slow, a reminder of the die hard attitudes towards GM crops. Belay said a major factor that could influence Africa to start growing GM maize was whether China would grow GM rice, which it has developed but not released for production. "The real issue seems to me is lack of capacity, both physical and human, to enforce regulation, thus attitude is changing from 'rejection' to a kind of 'wait until we have capacity to regulate!'," said Belay.


Responding to a statement on Wednesday by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) declaring a regional disaster, Oxfam, Save the Children and CARE said some 28-30 million people faced severe hunger, a figure that could rise quickly to 49 million if no action is taken. "(We are) especially concerned about the impacts of the crisis on women and girls," said Emma Naylor-Ngugi of the humanitarian group CARE. "Increasingly, families are skipping meals and eating wild fruits to get by." The agencies urged governments and donors to coordinate their responses to the drought, prompted by the powerful El Niño phenomenon, which has driven two consecutive bad harvests and the failure of life-supporting crops. The drought has hit much of the region, including the maize belt in South Africa, the continent's most advanced economy and the top producer of the staple grain. "Investing in a robust response was essential months ago and it is critical now," said Alan Paul of Save the Children's East and Southern Africa region. Even though the powerful El Niño weather phenomenon blamed for the drought is forecast to dissipate in the coming months, its impact on people in affected countries will last far longer, the United Nations has warned. Oxfam's Innocent Katsande urged all Southern African governments to declare the drought a disaster, pointing to Malawi as an example of a government that had not yet done so. "Political leadership is crucial," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Governments need to coordinate their response to the crisis, bringing together donors and agencies." SADC's announcement approved the creation of a regional logistics team to coordinate the immediate response, and urged member states to scale up technological development for agriculture, energy, and water, in order to mitigate the impact of climate change on the region's poorest people. "This current phenomenon is a strong sign of what we can expect from a climate-changed world," said Oxfam's Daniel Sinnathamby. "We need to meet people's immediate needs but we must address the longer-term issues which have made men, women and children in Southern Africa chronically vulnerable."

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