FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

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 Thailand (9)

Thursday
Apr052012

The Dangers of Journalism (REPORT) 

(Video 25 years of Reporters Without Borders)

(HN, 4/5/12) - Yesterday's suicide bombing at the newly opened National Theater of Somalia is now believed to have killed four people, including the nation's Olympics chief and FIFA head among them; just as a ceremony began in celebration of the Somali National Television's one-year anniversary.

It was meant  to be a moment of lightness in the much darkness Somalia has experienced in 25-plus years of unrest, famine, and chaos.

It also - again - highlighted the dangerous situations global journalists contend with - even at an afternoon cultural event - to tell the story.

(PHOTO: Advocates in Sri Lanka/JNEWS) Journalism, on any stage, is never safe.

Various reports say that at least 10 journalists - four of them women - were seriously injured when the blast ripped through the  theater 5 minutes into a speech by the Somali Prime Minister, Abdiwelli Mohamed.

Witnesses said they believed the bomber had been a female who mingled with the crowd before detonating. The explosion killed 4 people.  The nation's Olympics chief and FIFA head among them.

The Al-Shabaab militant group has taken responsibility.

The hurt reporters are named as (SEE PHOTOS HERE):  Said Shire Warsame of Shabelle TV, Ahmed Ali Kahiye of Radio Kulmiye; Ayaan Abdi (female) of S24 TV/Somalie 24  and Hamdi Mohamed Hassan Hiis (female) of Somali Channel TV; Deeqa Mohamed (female) of the state-run Radio Mogadishu/ Radio Mogadiscio; Mohamed Noor and Mohamed Sharif of Radio Bar-kulan; Somali National Television staffers and Abdulkadir Mohamed Hassan, and freelance journalists Suleiman Sheikh Ismail and Mulki Hassan Haile (female) of Royal TV.

Reporters Without Borders in Paris said, “We condemn this despicable attack in the strongest possible terms and our thoughts are with the many victims,”

By all accounts, being `on assignment' can sometimes mean life or death for a journalist - and not always glamorous. 

DEATH AND IMPRISONMENT

In its annual "Attacks on the Press" report, the New York-based Committee  to Protect Journalists (CPJ) detailed intimidation and deaths to journalists. 

Imprisonments of reporters worldwide shot up more than 20% to its highest level since the mid-1990s in 2011, according to the annual survey - an increase driven largely by widespread jailings across the Middle East and North Africa;  finding, 179 writers, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1.  More than 34 higher than in 2010.

Additionally Iran was the world’s worst jailer, with 42 journalists behind bars. Eritrea, China, Burma, Vietnam, Syria, and Turkey also ranked among the world’s worst.

Losing their lives in 2011 were 46 journalists who were killed in the line of work around the world - undertaking dangerous assignments such as covering street protests and civil strife which reached a record level last year (2 more than 2010) as political unrest swept the Arab world. 

Reporters Without Borders puts that number at 66; and a tally by Switzerland Press Emblem Campaign says the total is as high as 106.

Photographers and camera operators made up about 40% of the overall death toll and noted an increase in the deaths of Internet journalists - who rarely have appeared in the totals before - with nine killed last year.

(Video of the moment of blast in Somalia yesterday, captured - via The Guardian)

BY  GEOGRAPHY 

Country-by-country, in 2011, Pakistan had the most deaths with seven, while Libya and Iraq followed with five each, and Mexico had three.

So far in 2012, the most hazardous duty ranks are:  Syria- 7, Somalia-3, India-2, Nigeria-2, Thailand-1, Pakistan-1, Brazil-2, Bangladesh-2, Afghanistan-1, Philippines-1

By all accounts approximately 22 journalists have died this year alone.  

They are:

Ali Ahmed Abdi, Radio Galkayo, Puntlandi - 3/4/12 in Galkayo, Somalia

Rajesh Mishra, Media Raj - 3/4/12 in Rewa, India

Abukar Hassan Mohamoud, Somaliweyn Radio - 2/28/12 in Mogadishu, Somalia

Anas al-Tarsha, Freelance - 2/24/12 in Homs, Syria

Rémi Ochlik, Freelance - 2/22/12 in Homs, Syria

Marie Colvin, Sunday Times - 2/22/12 in Homs, Syria

Rami al-Sayed, Freelance - 2/21/12 in Homs, Syria

Mario Randolfo Lopes, Vassouras na Net - 2/9/12 in Barra do Piraí, Brazil

Mazhar Tayyara, Freelance - 2/4/12 in Homs, Syria

Hassan Osman Abdi, Shabelle Media Network - 1/28/12 in Mogadishu, Somalia

Enenche Akogwu, Channels TV - 1/20/12 in Kano, Nigeria

Mukarram Khan Aatif, Freelance - 1/17/12 in Shabqadar, Pakistan

Wisut "Ae" Tangwittayaporn, Inside Phuket - 1/12/12 in Phuket, Thailand

Gilles Jacquier, France 2  - 1/11/12 in Homs, Syria

Samid Khan Bahadarzai, Melma Radio - 2/21/12  in Orgun, Afghanistan

Chandrika Rai, Navbharat, The Hitavada - 2/18/12 in Umaria, India

Paulo Roberto Rodrigues, Jornal Da Praça, Mercosul - 2/12/12 in Ponta Porá, Brazil

Meherun Runi, ATN Bangla Television - 2/1112 in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Golam Mustofa Sarowar, Maasranga Television - 2/11/12 in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Nansok Sallah, Highland FM - 1/18/12 in Jos, Nigeria

Christopher Guarin, Radyo Mo Nationwide/Tatak - 1/5/12 in General Santos City, Philippines

Shukri Abu al-Burghul, Al-Thawra/Radio Damascus - 1/3/12 in Damascus, Syria

-- HUMNEWS

Wednesday
Nov232011

The Political and Economic Impact of Thailand's Floods (VIDEO)

 

By Shreeya Sinha

(HN, November 23, 2011) - Since July 2011, Thailand has endured its worst flooding in more than half a century. The death toll has reached more than 500, and 22 of the country's 77 provinces, including Bangkok, the capital city, are still affected. The floods have shattered businesses and infrastructure and disrupted global supply chains at a crucial time in Thai politics.

Yingluck Shinawatra was elected Prime Minister two months before the floods started. Thailand's first female leader ran on a campaign of political reconciliation but now faces the additional challenge of rebuilding while opponents try to to take advantage of her missteps. And while the flood waters start to recede in the capital, the political and economic implications may linger.

In the above video, Asia Society Associate Fellow Duncan McCargo, the 2009 Bernard Schwartz Book Award winner, analyzed the crisis and its affect on Shinawatra's tenure in the video above. "There will people asking if Thailand is facing bad karma after six years of political tension and crisis," he said. McCargo outlined the oppositional politics at play that are impeding rebuilding efforts.

"It remains to be seen whether the government, the bureaucracy, and the military can hold back the waters," he said.

The author, Shreeya Sinha, is an award-winning Journalist, Multimedia Producer and Social Media Editor for Asia Society. She was raised in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and India.

Monday
Oct312011

Passing the Blame After the Thai Floods (REPORT) 

By Wayne Hay in Asia 

(October 31, 2011) The people of Thailand are being let down by their leaders during the ongoing flood disaster. Much criticism is being directed at Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for the government's handling of the crisis, but she cannot be held solely responsible.

Self-serving politicians around the flood-affected provinces must also stand up and shoulder their fair share of the blame for allowing politics to make an unwelcome entry into a human and economic tragedy.

Not only has the disaster been exacerbated by outrageous contradictory and often confusing statements by local and national elected officials, but the flow of water from north to south has been hindered by politics, as leaders try to protect their patch at the expense of national interest. Flood gates have remained closed when they should have been opened and vice versa.

It's a concern when the system means the prime minister has to negotiate with the governor of Bangkok before he will co-operate with the government's plans. That governor just happens to be a member of the opposition Democrat Party.

The government has resisted calls to declare a state of emergency for fear it could panic residents and scare off foreign investors and tourists. But what everyone needed was leadership and clear communication. Perhaps a state of emergency would have helped provide those things.

There needs to be change if the country is to avoid a repeat performance from people who have been elected to lead.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing

Monday
Oct242011

Indochina: Floods Impacting Millions, Crops Damaged (BRIEF, PHOTOS)

A Cambodian boy rides his motorcycle through flood waters. CREDIT: WFP Cambodia/Polly Egerton(HN, October 24, 2011) - A wide swath of Indochina is being hit by historic floods. An area the size of Spain is said to be under water, with tens of thousands of hectares of rice paddies and dozens of factories damaged.

Over the weekend, flood waters began to submerge streets in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Laos and Cambodia have also been hit by widespread flooding.

In Cambodia, aid agencies are reporting severe flash floods and rising water levels in 17 out of 24 provinces affecting more than 1.2 million people. The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an immediate response operation to address the food requirements of over 12,000 families - or 60,000 people. 

WFP is by providing a monthly 50kg of rice per household in Cambodia, said spokesperson Gaelle Sevenier.

Impoverished Laos, which is also flood-prone, is reported to have had almost eight percent of its rice farmland damaged. The UN says 12 out 17 provinces have been affected by severe flooding caused by tropical storm Haima and Nock-Ten this year.

At a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, David Singh from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) said the floods in South East Asia are threatening 8 million people.

Prokeab village in Kampong Thom province shows the overwhelming impact of flood waters on people's lives and livelihoods. Credit: WFPHe said the floods underline shortcomings in disaster risk reduction, with the highest concern being many children drowning because they can't swim (reportedly over 200 children in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand out of an estimated total of 740 related deaths). There are also thousands of workers unemployed because of poorly located manufacturing plants. 

UNISDR wants the governments of the affected countries to open discussions with the private sector on what adjustments needed to be made in their land use and basic prevention measures when these events were now so predictable.

Across the region, the well-being of millions are be drastically affected by the loss of livelihoods, as manufacturing plants are forced to shut and agriculture struggles to recover.

Singh said that, over the long term, countries such as Thailand need a more comprehensive framework to manage disasters, especially floods. The main shortcoming right now is there are about eight institutions that deal with water. Most of the countries in the region have no comprehensive framework to deal with this catastrophe.

Their analysis have raised fears that the current flooding in Thailand may be a prelude to even worse flood catastrophes in the future. UNISDR believes that the worst is yet to come.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Tuesday
Oct112011

Asia's Rice Bowl Inundated by Historic Floods (NEWS BRIEF)

Farmer Sai-ngern Inthawong on the Bueng That Luang wetland in Laos during dryer times. CREDIT: Mekong River Commission(HN, October 11, 2011) - Amid a global food crisis that has seen the price of staple items soar in countries as diverse as Somalia, Pakistan and Laos, historic floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains have damaged tens of thousands of hectares of rice paddies in South-east Asia.

Worst hit is Thailand - the world's Number One exporter of rice. However, smaller and poorer countries such as Laos and Cambodia are fearing extensive crop damage.

More rains are forecast in an unusual monsoon season that has already devastated some 1.5 million hectares of prime agricultural land. Vietnam, the world's Number Two rice exporter, has also suffered extensive crop damage.

In Thailand, where flooding has been mostly limited to rural areas, the capital Bangkok is bracing itself for a deluge. More than 230 people have already died in Thailand. 

Laos, among the poorest countries in the world, has been struggling to recover from severe tropical storms that struck in June. The Vientiane Times reports that some 64,000 hectares of rice land has been damaged by flooding this wet season.

More than 429,900 people in 1,790 villages of 96 districts across 12 provinces have been affected by floods and landslides triggered by tropical storms Haima and Nock-Ten, the newspaper reported.

"The whole region will now suffer from rising food prices as potential harvests have now been devastated," said Margareta Wahlstrom, the United Nations chief of disaster reduction. "The damage is very serious this year and it will be some time before people can resume normal lives."

The Mekong River, which cuts through all the countries, is rising in some parts. According to the Bangkok-based Mekong River Commission "all stations along the Mekong River mainstream were recording levels that are above the long-term average for this time of year."

- HUMNEWS staff, UN, agencies

Friday
Apr152011

Thailand: The Calm Before the Storm? (Analysis) 

-by International Crisis Group

Photo courtesy of ICG(April 15, 2011) -- Nearly a year after the crackdown on anti-establishment demonstrations, Thailand is preparing for a general election. Despite government efforts to suppress the Red Shirt movement, support remains strong and the deep political divide has not gone away.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s roadmap for reconciliation has led almost nowhere. Although there have been amateurish bomb attacks carried out by angry Red Shirts since the crackdown, fears of an underground battle have not materialised.

On the other side, the Yellow Shirts have stepped up their nationalist campaigns against the Democrat Party-led government that their earlier rallies had helped bring to power. They are now claiming elections are useless in “dirty” politics and urging Thais to refuse to vote for any of the political parties. Even if the elections are free, fair and peaceful, it will still be a challenge for all sides to accept the results.

If another coalition is pushed together under pressure from the royalist establishment, it will be a rallying cry for renewed mass protests by the Red Shirts that could plunge Thailand into more violent confrontation.

The Red Shirt demonstrations in March-May 2010 sparked the most deadly clashes between protestors and the state in modern Thai history and killed 92 people. The use of force by the government may have weakened the Red Shirts but the movement has not been dismantled and is still supported by millions of people, particularly in the North and North East. Arresting their leaders as well as shutting down their media and channels of communication has only reinforced their sense of injustice.

Some in the movement’s hardline fringe have chosen to retaliate with violence but the leadership has reaffirmed its commitment to peaceful political struggle. The next battle will be waged through ballot boxes and the Red Shirts will throw their weight behind their electoral wing, the Pheu Thai Party.

The protracted struggle between supporters of the elite establishment – the monarchy, the military and the judiciary – and those allied with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra began with the formation of the “yellow-shirted” People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in 2006. The September 2006 coup removed Thaksin from power but prompted the emergence of a counter movement: the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or Red Shirts.

The PAD’s campaigns to close down Bangkok airports in 2008 created deadlock that was resolved by a court ruling that removed Thaksin’s “proxy” party – People Power Party – from power. This led to the formation of the Democrat-led coalition government, backed by the military. Two years later, the ultra-nationalist Yellow Shirts have apparently split from their former allies and are protesting outside Government House against Abhisit’s alleged failure to defend “Thai territory” in the Preah Vihear border dispute with Cambodia. The PAD’s call for a “virtuous” leader to replace the prime minister has raised concerns that it is inviting the military to stage a coup.

Abhisit has stated he will dissolve parliament in the first week of May after expediting the enactment of legislation to revise key electoral rules. He is moving quickly towards the elections amid rumours of a coup. With the new rules and pre-poll largesse, the Democrat Party hopes to secure more seats and position itself to lead another coalition.

Thaksin is still popular with much of the electorate and there is a strong possibility that his de facto Pheu Thai Party could emerge as the largest party. The formation of the government is likely to be contentious. The UDD has threatened to return to the streets if Pheu Thai wins a plurality but does not form the government. Obvious arm bending by the royalist establishment to this end is a recipe for renewed protests and violence. Should the opposite occur, and Pheu Thai has the numbers to lead a new government, the Yellow Shirts might regain momentum; they are unlikely to tolerate a “proxy” Thaksin government.

While elections will not resolve the political divide and the post-election scenarios look gloomy, Thailand nevertheless should proceed with the polls. A well-publicised electoral code of conduct and independent monitoring by local and international observers could help enhance their credibility and minimise violence during the campaign. If installed successfully, the new government with a fresh mandate will have greater credibility to lead any longer term effort to bring about genuine political reconciliation.

- International Crisis Group, Bangkok/Brussels 

Monday
Jan242011

2011 is Year of the Bat - Crucial Pollinators (Perspective)

By Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle

(HN, January 24, 2011) - Were you aware that bats are key pollinators in many parts of the world? Pollination is a vital ecosystem service without which many of our key industries such as agriculture and pharmaceuticals would collapse or incur heavy costs for artificial substitution. TEEB has found that in some estimates, over 75% of the worlds crop plants, as well as many plants that are source species for pharmaceuticals, rely on pollination by animal vectors.Bats provide a wide range of ecosystem services which benefit mankind from insect deterrent to bat guano fertilizer. CREDIT: Merlin Tuttle

Furthermore, for 87 out of 115 leading global crops (representing up to 35% of the global food supply), fruit or seed numbers or quality were increased through animal pollination. Bats also provide a wide range of ecosystem services which benefit mankind from insect deterrent to bat guano fertilizer.

Bat Pollinators: Tequila and the Tree of Life

More than 1,200 species of bats comprise nearly a quarter of all mammals, and their ecological services are essential to human economies and the health of whole ecosystems worldwide. Without bats, costly crop pests would increase, forcing greater reliance on dangerous pesticides. We could also lose some of our favorite foods and beverages and suffer the consequences of greatly diminished biodiversity.

Many of our most important foods come from bat-dependent plants. These include bananas, plantain, breadfruit, peaches, mangos, dates, figs, cashews and many more. In fact, in an average tropical food market, approximately 70 percent of the fruit sold comes from trees or shrubs that rely heavily on bats in the wild. Some such as the famous durian, still rely on bat pollinators even in commercial orchards. This king of Asian fruits sells for a billion dollars annually, but could be lost without healthy populations of its bat pollinators.

In East Africa nectar feeding bats are essential to fruit production of the Baobab tree, sometimes referred to as the African Tree of Life due to the exceptional variety of wildlife that depend on it for food and shelter. Recently, it has additionally become known as the Vitamin Tree. Baobab fruits contain six times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much calcium as milk, are rich in other vitamins and antioxidants and may soon become a billion dollar a year crop.

In deserts, from the southwestern United States to southern Peru, more than 100 species of cactus and agave plants rely on bats for pollination. Giant, columnar cactus plants, such as the famous saguaro and organ pipe, are heavily relied on for food and shelter by a wide variety of birds and mammals, and agaves are extremely useful in erosion control, as ornamentals and as the source of all tequila liquor. The world's thirsty Margarita drinkers can definitely raise a glass in praise of bats.

Bats: Nature's natural pesticide

Bats also provide an essential ecosystem service known as "biological control." Natural pests and diseases are usually regulated by a wide range of predators and parasites. TEEB has found that agricultural pests cause significant economic losses worldwide. Globally, more than 40% of food production is being lost to insect pests, plant pathogens, and weeds, despite the application of more than 3 billion kilograms of pesticides to crops, plus other means of control. Natural control of pests is to date one of the most effective means of dealing with these threats. Bats are essential predators which keep many damaging insects from destroying crops.

The colony of 20 million free-tailed bats that lives in Bracken Cave near San Antonio, Texas, for example, consumes 200 tons of insects nightly, predominantly crop pests such as corn earworm and armyworm moths. Just one of these bats can catch enough moths in one night's feeding to prevent 50,000 or more eggs from being laid, resulting in local cotton growers saving close to a million dollars annually in reduced need for pesticides.

A single mouse-eared bat (widespread in Europe and North America) can capture 1,000 or more mosquito-sized insects in just one hour. A colony of 150 big brown bats, a number that could live in a backyard bat house, can capture enough cucumber beetles in a summer to prevent them from laying 33 million eggs that would otherwise hatch into corn rootworms, a billion-dollar-a -year pest in the United States.

In many locations, bats can be easily attracted to bat houses to help protect gardens and organic farms. Outstanding success has been reported from Oregon to Georgia in the United States, probably because many of our worst insect pests listen for bat echolocation signals and flee areas where bats are heard. A pecan grower in Georgia reports having become entirely organic since he attracted thousands of bats to extra large bat houses in his orchard. So the next time you think organic, think "bats."

Bat Fertilizer

Bats are also the primary energy producers for many cave ecosystems. Guano deposits beneath their roosts provide energy that sustains thousands of unique life forms, from bacteria and fungi to arthropods and small vertebrates. These organisms are often endemic to a single cave or cave system, but provide a potential treasure trove of biodiversity needed for solving human problems, from production of new antibiotics and gasohol to improved detergents and waste detoxification.

Additionally, extraction of bat guano for fertilizer provides an invaluable renewable resource for whole communities in developing countries from Asia and Africa to Latin America. For example, due to this eco-service of bats, Thailand's Khao Chong Pran Cave has become a major source of income for the local community, as well as a unique tourist attraction. Careful protection and harvest management have allowed annual guano sales to increase from $10,000 to $135,000. Bat guano is big business.

From Terror to Tourist Attraction

As people learn to appreciate bats, these fascinating animals are paving the way for popular tourist attractions. When 1.5 million free-tailed bats began moving into crevices beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas, health officials warned that they were rabid and dangerous, and local people wanted the bats eradicated. However, through the educational efforts of Bat Conservation International, fears were calmed, and in more than 30 years, not a single person has been harmed. The bats consume roughly 15 tons of insects nightly and attract 12 million tourist dollars each summer, clearly demonstrating the value of bats to our environment and economies.

Year of the Bat 2011-2012

Unfortunately, many people in other locations around the world still misunderstand, fear and persecute bats at great harm to themselves. Too many have heard only of vampires and disease, both of which have been greatly exaggerated by sensational media stories.

Needlessly fearful humans, in Latin America, have mistakenly destroyed thousands, even millions of highly beneficial bats at a time by sealing, burning or poisoning roosts, especially in caves, and many more bats have been lost through simple neglect of their conservation needs.

Ironically, even the common vampire bat of Latin America has proven useful. A new drug, Desmoteplase developed from research on vampire saliva, appears to greatly improve treatment of stroke victims, a potentially enormous contribution to human wellbeing. Who would have thought that a bat - and a vampire, at that - could help save countless lives?

Year of the Bat (2011-2012) celebrations will highlight bat values and needs, providing unique introductions to these incredibly fascinating animals that unfortunately rank among our planet's least understood and most rapidly declining and endangered animals. But as more people learn about and account for the ecosystem services provided by bats, greater conservation efforts will be made to ensure the survival of these fascinating and essential creatures.

For more information:

Year of the Bat 2011 - 2012 is a global campaign to promote conservation, research and education about the world's only flying mammals. Year of the Bat is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and EUROBATS, as well as numerous partner organizations around the world.

The writer is Honorary Ambassador for the Year of the Bat campaign.

Monday
Dec132010

New Hydroelectric Project to Provide Laos With Huge Cash Influx (News Brief)

(HN, December 13, 2010) -- The landlocked Southeast Asian country of Laos - one of the poorest in the world - is celebrating the arrival of a new revenue stream in the form of the Nam Theun 2 hydropower facility.

Operating since April, the controversial 1,070 megawatt plant was officially inaugurated late last week. Over 90% of the electricity generated is being sold to neighbouring Thailand, providing Laos with a $2 billion revenue stream over the next 25 years.Will the fresh income from hydro projects trickle down to this family in Vientiane? CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

Officials say the funds are earmarked for the nationwide improvement of health and education services, and other poverty alleviation programs.

The influx of revenue could not have come at a better time. Laos, like many other developing countries, has taken a huge economic blow from the global economic downturn: foreign remittances from overseas workers has slumped and so have orders for textile products. Tourists have also been in short supply, despite the hosting of the Asian Games in Vientiane in December 2009. Aid agencies feared that the Communist government may be tempted to institute budget cuts to education and health.

But officials behind the project put forth a positive spin, suggesting it will go a long way in eradicating poverty - especially in the country's backward northern provinces.

"This project is a testament to the fact that when hydropower projects are done right, in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, the benefits are considerable," said Kunio Senga, Director General of the Asian Development Bank's Southeast Asia Department.

Before the Nam Theun 2 - located on a river of the same name, which is a tributary of the Mekong - more than half of the families in the nearby Nakai Plateau villages lived in poverty. Child mortality rates were high, clean drinking water was scarce, and sanitation was almost non-existent.

"Today, the vast majority of residents say they are better off than ever before," said Senga.

The ADB said displaced families have been provided with new hardwood homes complete with electricity, clean water and sanitation facilities.

CREDIT: International RiversThese improvements, coupled with improved healthcare services, have resulted in a measurable decline in child and infant mortality rates, with parasitic infections falling by 90 percent, according to the ADB.

"This is an incredibly complex project, and numerous challenges have arisen along the way," said Senga. "By working closely with communities we strive to address their concerns - from compensation to the need for more land - and to introduce programs tailored to their specific needs. We will continue to closely monitor the situation."

The project has also placed great emphasis on environmental management. Over $60 million has been invested in downstream water quality management, with better than expected results, says the ADB.

However environmental groups still have reservations about the overall benefit of the project.

US-based watchdog International Rivers says there are still questions about the sustainability of livelihoods for the more than 6,000 villagers relocated for the dam, and tens of thousands more downstream.

"It's way too early to call this project a success," Ikuko Matsumoto, Lao programme director for the group was quoted as saying.

Laos is highly dependent on outside assistance. The ADB provided $120 million in support of the $1.43 billion project. Twenty-seven different financing institutions also supported it, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and Agence Francaise du Developpement.

The Nam Theun 2 Power Company is jointly owned by Electricite de France International, Electricity Generating Public Company (Thailand), and the Government of Laos.

The World Bank estimates the project will account for almost 40% of Laos's economic growth this year.

"The idea of the Laotian government is to become the 'battery' of Southeast Asia, because they've got tremendous hydropower potential, so what we're trying to emphasize is, please take the model and the lessons," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said after a visit to the project with The Associated Press in October.

- HUMNEWS staff, ADB, files

Tuesday
Dec072010

Weakness in Developed Economies Poses Risks for Emerging Asian Tigers - ADB (News Brief)

(HN, December 7, 2010) The emerging "tiger economies" of Asia will see moderate growth at best in the coming year due to continuing slow demand in the USA and Europe.Many Asian economies, such as Laos, are benefitting from increased tourism receipts. CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

According to the Asian Development Bank's just-released Asian Economic Monitor, the Asian economies saw a robust recovery in the past year due to higher domestic demand, stimulus interventions and low financial vulnerability.

While many of the economies received high marks for good economic house-keeping - many are export-dependent and cannot escape the economic contagion from the USA and Europe.

"The external economic environment for emerging East Asia has weakened as the US economy continues to struggle and doubts remain over the sustainability of the eurozone recovery," said the ADB. "Many emerging East Asian economies now face the challenge of managing strong growth and capital flows amid a weaker external environment."

Small economies, which just a few months ago appeared on the brink of collapse, are clawing their way back. Laos, for instance, benefitted from construction related to the Southeast Asian games and higher mineral production.

Myanmar (also known as Burma), which has been battered by severe weather events and political unrest, saw economic growth improve to 4.4% in 2009 from 3.6% the previous year boosted by large inflows of foreign direct investment, the ADB said.

However, GDP in both Brunei Darussalam and Cambodia contracted.

One of the extraordinary developments has been the surge in stock market growth in the emerging economies of East Asia.

The ADB reports increases in bourses such as: Indonesia (44.3%), Thailand (38.3%), Philippines (35.7%) and Malaysia (17.5%) posting record highs.

- HUMNEWS staff, ADB