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Wednesday:  December 17, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Norway (3)

Tuesday
Feb282012

Four Years to Doomsday: Checking In on The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (REPORT)

(VIDEO: IlluminatiOrderNWO/YOUTUBE)

By Ross Andersen

For its fourth birthday, Svalbard will receive seeds from war-torn Syria and celebrate years of success preserving our inheritance from Neolithic times.

The world's agricultural hard drive, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, turns four years old today.

(PHOTO: The Svalbard Seed Vault/Richard Wagner) The vault was a media sensation when it first opened in 2008, but it hasn't been in the news much since. I figured it was time to check in and see how these first four years have gone. An awesome technology by any measure, the vault is a steely compound tunneled five hundred feet into an icy mountain in the Norwegian Arctic, just 600 miles from the North Pole.

It is designed to last a thousand years, and to withstand a wide range of global disasters, including climate change, nuclear war, and even an asteroid strike. Over the past four years the vault has amassed some 740,000 seed samples and eventually it may house every crop seed ever used by a human being. 

The vault stores duplicates of the holdings of local seed banks all over the world, insuring against seed loss in the event of a local or global catastrophe. It functions like a safety deposit box; samples can be accessed by their depositing seed banks, but if researchers or plant breeders wish to access the seeds, they must request samples directly from those banks. 

(PHOTO: interestinEngineering.com) Security at the facility is state of the art and fully automated---there is no full-time staff and no single person has all the codes necessary for entrance. Nor is there much traffic inside, for new seeds are only accepted a few days a year. Today's fourth anniversary will bring several new seed shipments to the vault, including an ancient grain called amaranth, a favorite of the Aztecs and Incas, and a malting barley from the Pacific Northwest called "Klages," which is used in many craft beers.

Cary Fowler is the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which maintains the vault in partnership with the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resources Center.

I talked to Cary about the vault's anniversary, its importance, and the future of agriculture.

When I think about the seed vault, the first thing that stands out to me is that it's really a technology of deep time, a way of coping with the kinds of events that happen on very broad time scales.

Q:  Do you see any other technologies or institutions outside the world of agriculture as playing a similar role as yours?

Fowler:  I haven't given it a lot of thought, so I guess I would say no. We tried to design this facility to last as far as we could see into the future. We didn't actually plan this to be what some in the media have called it, which is a doomsday vault. We're not people who run around with signs saying "repent the end is near." In fact we realized that unfortunately the vault was probably going to be used sooner rather than later. Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, there was a fire in the national gene bank in the Philippines and two years before that they experienced a flood, so you don't have to have some kind of global catastrophe for this thing to be useful. We're losing biodiversity right now, and it isn't necessarily because of some global catastrophe.

But of course I have to acknowledge that even though we weren't planning for doomsday, the facility is such that it would provide a lot of protection for many large catastrophes depending on where they occurred, but that wasn't the original impetus for the project.

(PHOTO: Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust/MEMPHISFLYER) Q:  You first opened for seeds in 2008, which means you've been at this for four years now. What's the most surprising thing you've learned in that time?

Fowler:  Things have moved a lot faster than I expected. I think most people thought that the day we opened we would have every seed that we wanted or needed, or that it would come shortly thereafter, but those of us in the field know that that's not the way it happens. The seed banks themselves are typically not sitting on such large quantities of seeds that they can just immediately divide them and send them up to the vault in Norway. Even though it's for safety purposes, they still have to multiply the seeds and clean them and package them up and send them, and that takes time, and so it's been a nice surprise to see how quickly things are moving.

The other surprise is that we've had no bad surprises. When you plan something this  complicated you figure something is going to go wrong. During these past four years we've had seeds come from all over the world and it's been a gigantic coordination process to try to get seed boxes from all of these locations, a lot of which are in developing countries---Africa, Asia and Latin America---and to try to get them up to Oslo and then up to Svalbard on roughly the same day, so you don't have them sitting out on some tarmac in the hot sun. It's also surprising that we haven't lost a single box of seeds in transit. It's a miracle.

Q:  Where does the seed vault rank on the list of agricultural innovations, from the first crude stone sickles to the more sophisticated technologies of industrial farming?

(PHOTO: Inside the Svalbard Seed Vault stacks/WIRED) Fowler:  It's hard to say. What we hope to do is to provide robust and secure conservation for what's left of agricultural diversity. This is the inheritance of the Neolithic times and our time and everything in between, and so I guess I see it as a library, a library of life, that gives the history and culture of agriculture and protects it, but it's also a resource for the future. And so I'm not sure where it ranks, but I do think it's extremely important given the challenges that agriculture is facing right now, but it's not in and of itself a solution to those problems and it's not the only thing we should be doing.

Q:  As you see it what are the biggest challenges agriculture is facing right now?

Fowler:  Climate change is obviously the big one, but there are others; water availability is a big problem, so is nutrient availability, particularly phosphorous. And all of this is in the context of growing demand, both from increased population and from development pressures. As people get wealthier they tend to gravitate towards more meat-based diets, and it requires a lot more agricultural crop production to produce that meat. So we have all of those things happening and at the same time we don't have huge increases in agricultural investments, and so in a way we're really behind the game in terms of producing new crop varieties that are going to be adapted to these conditions. We need our crops to produce more on less land, with less water and less nutrients, and in a changing climate. Any one of those problems could be extremely daunting, but we're facing all of them at the same time. 

Q:  Are there scenarios you can envision that would render the earth's environments entirely inhospitable to seeds?

(PHOTO: Journalists waiting outside the Svalbard Seed Vault/The Atlantic) Fowler:  No. If the projections are correct it's certainly going to get more inhospitable, but not entirely inhospitable. The issues that I mentioned before---nutrient and water availability and climate change---are going to cause some fairly radical readjustments in agriculture if you look down the road any distance. And that's one of the things that differentiates us, the people involved in the seed vault from others, we do tend to have a long view of what's going to happen and we're trying to plan for that.

We expect that agriculture would even survive something like an asteroid strike; after all, plants survived the last one. What we're really trying to do up in Svalbard is preserve options. We're not saying that we have a crystal ball and that we know what's going to happen and we know what's needed, but we do know that the diversity we have represents an immense number of untapped options, and what we're trying to do is keep all of those options. I think it was Paul Ehrlich who said "the first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts," and that's what we're trying to do.

Q:  Earlier you mentioned that these seeds represent an inheritance from Neolithic Age, and it got me thinking about a different sort of inheritance. At the seed vault do you also store the intellectual and cultural capital of agriculture?

Fowler:  In a sense we do. We don't have archives at the seed vault, but we do have a record of what is there, and even though in a sense the seed vault is a kind of safety backup for existing seed banks and their collections, you could also look at it the opposite way, which is to say that the seed banks that contribute to the seed vault are actually performing backup for the seed vault. There is redundancy in our system. Everything that's in Svalbard can be found somewhere else, and that somewhere else is the main manager of that particular portion of diversity, and those institutions maintain extensive databases that describe everything they know about the traits and characteristics of every single sample. We link back to those and in that sense we have a very good record.

(PHOTO: Tunnel leading into the Seed Vault/Seed Trust) Also, at the Global Crop Diversity Trust, we're working with some other partners to put together a large international database called Genesys which will essentially unite all of these seed banks around the world so that researchers or plant experts who, for instance, may want to take a look at the whole diversity of rice or wheat can go onto one website and see what's available and where it is and how to get samples of it and things like that. A lot of that information, characteristics and the history and so forth, is missing in some of the seed samples, but for the samples that do have it, it's quite valuable and we try to maintain it.

Q:  Why is it that Norway was chosen for this project? Is it just the geography or is there something particular about Scandinavian culture reflected in the seed vault?

Fowler:  I think it's both. There are a lot of reasons for that particular location. One of them was historical; the Nordic countries, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, were storing backup copies of some of their seeds in an abandoned mine shaft up there, so there was a precedent.

But apart from that, Norway is special. Historically there have been a number of controversies around these genetic resources, questions of ownership and access and so forth, and I think Norway was at the top of the list in terms of the countries that everyone in the room trusted. They didn't have a commercial seed industry so there was no sense of a conflict of interest or of a private interest being involved. Norway is just an unusually generous and collaborative country. When I headed the committee that undertook the feasibility study for the seed vault, and when we presented it to the government, their attitude was "if this is a valuable natural resource and Norway is the place to safeguard it, how can we say no?" And they jumped right in and built the facility at their cost.

(PHOTO: An artists rendering of the vault/interestinengineering.com) Q:  Some of your methods make it clear that terrorism is a special concern for the Seed Vault. I know that new seed shipments are screened with an airport x-ray scanner to make sure that none contain bombs. Is that because you see terrorism as just one of the many contingencies that could occur over the next thousand years, or do think the Vault might be a likely target for terrorism?

Fowler:  I don't think it's a likely target, but of course one can never know. No political or religious group is against what we're doing so I don't think it's a target in that sense. When the vault was being built we performed a security assessment in order to assess the likelihood of it being a target, or the likelihood of it being under any kind of threat, and the Norwegian government deemed the threat to be extremely low. But, at the same time we thought that if we're going to go to all the trouble to build this place in the middle of a mountain in the Arctic then we might as well go the whole distance, and we think that increases the trust and confidence in what we're doing, the fact that we have thought through all of these contingencies even though we don't think many of these things are ever going to happen.

I remember when we were constructing the facility and I was talking to the local Governor in Svalbard who's responsible for security on the island, and he said to me "Cary, if anyone so much as writes graffiti on this thing we'll know who it is." After all it's just a small village there, and really what's neat is that the villagers are remarkably proud and protective of the vault. They know it's there, and they're proud of it and that gives us an extra security blanket out there because the locals see everything that's going on---walking around up there I've had any number of people stop me and say "we're protecting that vault of yours."

Q:  I know that you have some interesting seed shipments coming in association with the anniversary. Are you particularly excited about any of them?

(MAP: Svalbard and Jan Mayen/MAPQUEST) Fowler:  Two of them, actually. There is a very important, very historic dwarfing wheat variety coming from the United States. The short stature of modern varieties of wheat is very important, because it allows the wheat to carry more grain on the top without falling over. That's a huge event in agricultural history that we'll be able to preserve.

The other one we haven't publicized too much, because we didn't want to draw too much attention to what is a very sensitive situation---we're getting a large shipment in from ICARDA, an international agricultural research center in Syria. It's not a Syrian government organization, it's an international center and it's completely independent from the government. Obviously, there are a lot of troubles in that country right now and that center, ICARDA, has been safety duplicating its material all along, as a good professional team will do, but the fact that this shipment is coming up right now in some ways points to the utility and value of the seed vault. One would not expect a seed bank, even in Syria, to be a target, but unfortunately  there is a recent precedent: seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan were destroyed or severely damaged over the course of the wars there, not because they were blown up or anything but because in the context of chaos and the breakdown of law and order, people have come in and looted them. So we're pretty happy to have that collection at the vault.

Q:  There seems to be a real cultural fascination with the vault. Have you had many interesting visitors in the four years it's been up and running?

Fowler:  Oh yeah. The surprising thing about the visitors is how many artists we've had come up and try to take a look at it. I get the sense that the seed vault must be the subject of many different art projects. Now it's not a tourist attraction; we don't just open it up for people all the time. In fact there's no permanent staff there; we only go up to put the seeds in a couple of times a year. We do have a lot of monitoring there with people in the local community going up to check on it daily, but we monitor the facility remotely and they aren't authorized to take anyone in.

(PHOTO: Svalbard Seed Vaault view/SSV) But, given enough advance notice and enough time to see who a person is and if there's a real interest in them seeing it, we do have visitors there. We've had a number of political leaders, including Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations. I think the most interesting tour, and it's one I gave myself, was to former President Jimmy Carter and a group that he brought along, which included Madeleine Albright and a few others. I have a lot of admiration for him after having done that tour. Carter is famous for being a peanut farmer in Georgia, but not a lot of people know that his farm was devoted not just to producing peanuts but for producing peanuts for seed, so he knew the seed business very well. As I was giving the tour people in his group were asking all of these questions, and he was answering half of them.

But as far as visitors go generally, when people go to the vault they seem to get very emotional; people feel something in there, and maybe it's because they're standing in the room with the greatest amount of biodiversity in the world, and the rich human history associated with that, people can feel that something important is happening. It has a big impact on people when they see it. 

----This piece originally appeared on The Atlantic 2.28.12

Tuesday
Feb212012

G20 foreign ministers meet in Mexico; say `World is failing' (NEWS)

(PHOTO: Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano speaks during the opening of the G20 Foreign Ministers Informal Meeting in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur state, Mexico, 2.19/Xinhua, Shi Sisi)LOS CABOS, Mexico -- Foreign ministers of the Group of 20 (G20) on Sunday convened in Los Cabos, a resort town in northwestern Mexico, to discuss important issues including global governance, food safety, climate change and green growth.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, host of the meeting, said that frank and open dialogue would be held among G20 foreign ministers and officials from other invited countries at the two-day meeting from Sunday to Monday.

Mexico, which holds the G20 presidency this year, planned the meeting to "stimulate ideas" to promote the changes the world needs, said Espinosa.  "There are many important issues that affect the lives of billions of people across the world, on which the international community is failing to make any discernible progress," she said.

She called for progress to be made on issues such as eradicating famine and illiteracy, promoting green growth and sustainable development, and enhancing the rule of law.

The Mexican official, however, said the meeting, given its informal color, would not lead to any official documents.

"At this stage any results arising from these sessions will be mere recommendations for policy coherence among our countries and we do not intend to develop guidelines or formal documents to negotiate at the G20 Summit," she said.

According to the minister, the meeting have four major topics, namely the multilateral trade system, current global challenges, green growth and human development.

The meeting brought together 10 foreign ministers of G20 member economies, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. The Chinese delegation is led by Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu. Mexico also invited representatives from non-G20 economies and international organizations to participate in the meeting.

Los Cabos, the coastal resort where the G20 Summit will take place in June, has adopted strict measures to beef up security. More police and soldiers have been deployed at the airports and along the major roads to maintain order and check the vehicles.

--- this article first appeared on Cam11

Related:

Mexican Presidency of the G20

Mexico will chair the G20 in 2012 and host the Leaders’ Summit in June of the same year. By assuming the annual Presidency of the G20, as the second emerging country to do so at the Leaders’ level, and the first in Latin America, Mexico confirms its role as a responsible and constructive actor, both regionally and globally.

Mexico is firmly committed to achieving a successful Summit in regards to the agreements reached and their positive impact on the world economy. The Mexican Presidency will seek to follow up the agreements reached previously and will also work to make important contributions to these and other issues of the agenda of the G20. Moreover, Mexico will promote an active and engaged participation of non-members, international organizations, think tanks and the private sector in order to make the G20 dialogue as inclusive, open and transparent as possible.

With this goal in mind, Mexico has established the following priorities:

1. Economic stabilization and structural reforms as foundations for growth and employment.

2. Strengthening the financial system and fostering financial inclusion to promote economic growth.

3. Improving the international financial architecture in an interconnected world.

4. Enhancing food security and addressing commodity price volatility..

5. Promoting sustainable development, green growth and the fight against climate change.

Sunday
May082011

Norway Best Place to be a Mother, Afghanistan Worst - Report (NEWS BRIEF)

A student in Balochistan (بلوچستان) in Pakistan: access to improved education is key to boosting maternal and child health. PHOTO: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS(HN, May 8, 2011) - As Mother's Day is observed today in North America, a new report by Save the Children finds that Norway is the best place to be a mother and Afghanistan the worst.

The United States, meanwhile, comes in at #31 among the 43 developed countries ranked.

The findings are contained in Save the Children's 12th annual Mothers' Index, which analyzes health, education and economic conditions for women and children in 164 countries.

Other countries that ended at the top of the list are: Australia, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark. Competing with Afghanistan for worst rankings are: Niger, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Chad, D.R Congo and Eritrea.

Explaining the last place ranking of Afghanistan, the report said: "It has the highest lifetime risk of maternal mortality and the lowest female life expectancy in the world. It also places second to last on skilled attendance at birth, under-5 mortality and gender disparity in primary education. Performance on most other indicators also places Afghanistan among the lowest-ranking countries in the world."

With one of the most advanced health systems in the world, and a wealthy economy, the relatively low rank place of the United States may come as a surprise to some people. Save the Children explained that one of the key indicators used to calculate well-being for mothers is lifetime risk of maternal mortality.

Says the report: "The United States rate for maternal mortality is 1 in 2,100 - the highest of any industrialized nation.  In fact only three Tier I developed countries - Albania, the Russian Federation and Moldova - performed worst than the United States on this indicator.

A woman in the U.S. is more than seven times as likely as a woman in Italy or Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes, and her risk of maternal death is 15-fold that of a woman in Greece."

So what is the world to do to boost countries such as Afghanistan out of its lowest-ranking status? Save the Children suggests that governments and international agencies boost funding to improve education levels for women and girls, increase access to maternal and child health care and advance women's economic opportunities. Current research and new studies on mothers' and children's well-being is also crucial. Finally, the US and other industrialized countries, governments and communities "need to work together to improve education and health care for disadvantaged mothers."