UN Envoy: 1.1B People Face Risks from Lack of Cooling

New data from 52 countries in hot climates reveals that over 1.1 billion people face “significant risks” — including death — from lack of access to cooling, a U.N. envoy said Monday.

Rachel Kyte told a press conference that “millions of people die every year from lack of cooling access, whether from food losses, damaged vaccines, or severe heat impact.”

The U.N. envoy, who is promoting the United Nations goal of providing sustainable energy for all people by 2030, said nine countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America with the biggest populations that face major risks are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan.

Kyte stressed that “cooling for all” doesn’t mean “putting an air conditioner in every home.”

She said an urgent effort is needed to clarify cooling needs, engage governments and the private sector, and develop and test possible new solutions. 

Kyte spoke on the sidelines of this week’s high-level event assessing progress on six of the 17 U.N. goals adopted by world leaders in 2015 to combat poverty, promote development and preserve the environment by 2030. One of the goals is universal access to sustainable energy.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the opening session that there has been progress on reducing maternal and child mortality, tackling childhood marriage, expanding access to electricity, addressing global unemployment, and cutting the rate of forest loss around the globe.

But Mohammed said in other areas “we are either moving too slowly, or losing momentum.”

“For the first time in a decade, the number of people who are undernourished has increased — from 777 million people in 2015 to 815 million in 2016 — fundamentally undermining our commitment to leaving no one behind,” she said.

Young people remain three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, most of the world’s extreme poor are projected to live in urban settings by 2035, and basic sanitation remains “off track,” she said. And “we are seeing alarming decline in biodiversity, rising sea levels, coastal erosion, extreme weather conditions and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases” that cause global warming.

As for access to energy including renewable energy, Mohammed said the rate of progress “is not fast enough to meet our target.”

“We need to also double our efforts on energy efficiency,” she said. “250 million more people in Africa have no access to clean fuels for cooking compared to 2015.”

Kyte, who is also CEO of the nonprofit organization Sustainable Energy for All, stressed that without ensuring access to cooling for all people, the U.N. goal of universal access to energy will not be achieved.

She stressed that “access to cooling is not a luxury” but “a fundamental issue of equity. And as temperatures hit record levels, this could mean the difference between life and death for some.”

While 1.1 billion people lack access to cooling, Kyte said another 2.3 billion people present “a different kind of cooling risk.”

They represent “a growing lower-middle class who can only afford to buy cheaper, less efficient air conditioners, which could spike global energy demand and have profound climate impacts,” she said.

As examples of other hurdles that must be overcome in the next 12 years, she said, 470 million people in poor rural areas don’t have access to safe food and medicines and 630 million people in hotter, poor urban slums “have little or no cooling to protect them against extreme heatwaves.”

In India, Kyte said, “nearly 20 percent of temperature-sensitive health care products arrive damaged or degraded because of broken or insufficient cold chains, including a quarter of vaccines.”


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World’s Oldest Bread Found at Prehistoric Site in Jordan

Charred remains of a flatbread baked about 14,500 years ago in a stone fireplace at a site in northeastern Jordan have given researchers a delectable surprise: people began making bread, a vital staple food, millennia before they developed agriculture.

No matter how you slice it, the discovery detailed on Monday shows that hunter-gatherers in the Eastern Mediterranean achieved the cultural milestone of bread-making far earlier than previously known, more than 4,000 years before plant cultivation took root.

The flatbread, likely unleavened and somewhat resembling pita bread, was fashioned from wild cereals such as barley, einkorn or oats, as well as tubers from an aquatic papyrus relative, that had been ground into flour.

It was made by a culture called the Natufians, who had begun to embrace a sedentary rather than nomadic lifestyle, and was found at a Black Desert archeological site.

“The presence of bread at a site of this age is exceptional,” said Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, a University of Copenhagen postdoctoral researcher in archaeobotany and lead author of the research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Arranz-Otaegui said until now the origins of bread had been associated with early farming societies that cultivated cereals and legumes. The previous oldest evidence of bread came from a 9,100-year-old site in Turkey.

“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Arranz-Otaegui said. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”

University of Copenhagen archeologist and study co-author Tobias Richter pointed to the nutritional implications of adding bread to the diet. “Bread provides us with an important source of carbohydrates and nutrients, including B vitamins, iron and magnesium, as well as fiber,” Richter said.

Abundant evidence from the site indicated the Natufians had a meat- and plant-based diet. The round floor fireplaces, made from flat basalt stones and measuring about a yard (meter) in diameter, were located in the middle of huts.

Arranz-Otaegui said the researchers have begun the process of trying to reproduce the bread, and succeeded in making flour from the type of tubers used in the prehistoric recipe. But it might have been an acquired taste.

“The taste of the tubers,” Arranz-Otaegui said, “is quite gritty and salty. But it is a bit sweet as well.”


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Aid Group Warns: Clean Water for All Is Still Centuries Away

Supplying clean water and toilets for all could take hundreds of years in countries like Eritrea and Namibia unless governments step up funding to tackle the problem and its harmful effects on health, an international development agency warned on Monday.

WaterAid – which says nearly 850 million people lack clean water — predicted the world will miss a global goal to provide drinking water and adequate sanitation for everyone by 2030. 

Meeting it will cost $28 billion per year, the nonprofit said.

“Water, sanitation and hygiene is a global crisis,” said Savio Carvalho, WaterAid’s global advocacy director.

“We’re really calling for governments to pull up their socks,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from the United Nations in New York.

From July 9-18, governments are reviewing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, which were agreed at the United Nations in 2015, with a focus on six of the 17.

Last week, U.N. officials said barriers to achieving the 2030 water and sanitation targets range from conflict and water pollution to climate change, urging more efficient water use.

By the 2030 deadline, “a significant number of people” in 80 countries are unlikely to have access to clean water, while poor sanitation is expected to persist in more than 100 nations, WaterAid said.

Drawing on U.N. data, the UK-based group calculated some countries will need hundreds of years to provide safe drinking water and toilets for all their people, meaning countries collectively are thousands of years off track.

At current rates, Namibians would have to wait until 2246 for everyone to have clean water, while all Eritreans would not get it until 2507 and Nicaraguans not until 2180, WaterAid said. It could be 500 years before every Romanian has access to a toilet, and 450 years for Ghanaians, it added.

Governments should fund water and sanitation provision from their own budgets, and work with utilities and private companies to reach people in isolated areas, said Carvalho.

“There’s money around – it’s just not allocated in the right way,” he said, urging international donors to increase spending on water and sanitation.

Other global goals to ensure healthy lives, reduce inequality and end poverty will be jeopardized until access to water and sanitation is prioritized, noted Carvalho.

WaterAid quoted World Bank data showing the knock-on effects of inadequate sanitation — which causes child deaths from poor hygiene and preventable disease – cost $220 billion in 2015.

Some countries, including Rwanda and India, have made substantial headway towards the water and sanitation goal, but sustaining progress remains a challenge, said Carvalho.

“For the nations collectively to be thousands of years off track in meeting these human rights is shocking,” WaterAid Chief Executive Tim Wainwright said in a statement. 


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Australian Trial Crushes Numbers of Disease-Spreading Mosquitoes

Mosquitos are one of the deadliest creatures on Earth. In a town in northern Australia, more than 80 percent of the mosquitoes that spread dengue fever have been wiped out in a pioneering tropical trial. Scientists say the results could help global efforts to eradicate the dangerous pest.

In the trial, millions of male Aedes aegypti, or yellow fever mosquitoes, were bred in a laboratory and infected with a naturally occurring bacteria that made them sterile.

They were then released near the small farming town of Innisfail in Queensland, 1,600 kilometers (995 miles) north of Brisbane.

Over three months they mated with females who laid eggs that did not hatch, causing the population to fall by about 80 percent. The type of mosquito used in the trial is responsible for infecting hundreds of millions of people around the world with diseases such as dengue, Zika and yellow fever.

The project was run by researchers from Australia’s national science body, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, in a trial that received funding from Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Dr. Rob Grenfell, the director of Health and Biosecurity at the CSIRO says the results are a major breakthrough.

“Now this is momentous in the sense that we have achieved a significant decrease in populations of mosquitoes in our test area here in northern Queensland,” he said. “But also to commemorate the incredible community that actually backed our science here, not only did they open their hearts and minds but also their homes to allow our scientists to come in and trap and test our mosquito-controlling technologies.”

Australian researchers want to test the technology overseas in an area with high levels of dengue. They believe it could be a valuable weapon against a public health menace.

The World Health Organization estimates that almost 4 billion people in 128 countries are at risk of contracting dengue. The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected female mosquito. The WHO says that the global incidence of dengue has increased 30 times in the last 30 years.


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What Fat Dogs May Tell Us About Overweight Humans

Fat dogs may have more in common with obese humans than we think. Hungarian researchers have discovered that overweight dogs were interested only in top quality food and would not settle for second best. The study suggests that dogs could be used as models into the causes and psychological impact of human obesity. VOA’s Deborah Block has a report.


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Artificial Intelligence Cannot Replace Doctors, Can Work Alongside Them

Robots can do a lot of things people can do… but can they replace doctors? A London-based artificial intelligence company says its AI robot doctors can diagnose patients just as well as a human clinician. But some general practitioners say the service can never replicate the level of care given by human doctors. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.


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More Than 200,000 People in Southern Syria Have No Access to Medical Care

The World Health Organization is calling for access to more than 210,000 people in urgent need of medical assistance in southern Syria, the scene of recent intense fighting between Russian-backed Syrian Government forces and opposition armed groups. 

United Nations and other aid agencies are able to provide medical and other assistance to people in Government-controlled areas in southern Syria.  But, parts of rebel-held northwest Daraa and Quneitra Governorates are inaccessible to them, raising concerns for the health of more than 200,000 people displaced by the fighting.

The World Health Organization is calling for unimpeded and immediate access to these areas,” said Jasarevic. “WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic says many lives are at stake.  He says health workers must be allowed to reach those in urgent need of help and the safe delivery of essential medicines and medical items must be guaranteed.  

“The majority of people displaced are exposed to soaring summer temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius and dusty desert winds, with limited access to clean drinking water, sanitation services, and adequate health care.  In the past week, at least 15 Syrians—12 children, two women, and one elderly man—have died due to dehydration, and diseases transmitted through contaminated water.”

WHO reports nearly 75 percent of all public hospitals and health centers in Daraa and Quneitra are closed or only partially functioning.  As a consequence, it says many injured people, including hundreds of children, as well as pregnant women in need of emergency obstetric services are unable to receive vital medical care.

 

 


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8 Endangered Black Rhinos Die in Kenya After Relocation

Eight critically endangered black rhinos are dead in Kenya following an attempt to move them from the capital to a national park hundreds of kilometers away, the government said Friday, calling the toll “unprecedented” in more than a decade of such transfers.

Preliminary investigations point to salt poisoning as the rhinos tried to adapt to saltier water in their new home, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said in a statement. It suspended the ongoing move of other rhinos and said the surviving ones were being closely monitored.

Losing the rhinos is “a complete disaster,” said prominent Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect.

Conservationists in Africa have been working hard to protect the black rhino sub-species from poachers targeting them for their horns to supply an illegal Asian market. 

In moving a group of 11 rhinos to the newly created Tsavo East National Park from Nairobi last month, the Kenya Wildlife Service said it hoped to boost the population there. The government agency has not said how the rhinos died. Fourteen of the animals were to be moved in all.

“Disciplinary action will definitely be taken” if an investigation into the deaths indicates negligence by agency staff, the wildlife ministry said.

“Moving rhinos is complicated, akin to moving gold bullion, it requires extremely careful planning and security due to the value of these rare animals,” Kahumbu said in a statement. “Rhino translocations also have major welfare considerations and I dread to think of the suffering that these poor animals endured before they died.”

Transporting wildlife is a strategy used by conservationists to help build up, or even bring back, animal populations. In May, six black rhinos were moved from South Africa to Chad, restoring the species to the country in north-central Africa nearly half a century after it was wiped out there.

Kenya transported 149 rhinos between 2005 and 2017 with eight deaths, the wildlife ministry said.

According to WWF, black rhino populations declined dramatically in the 20th century, mostly at the hands of European hunters and settlers. Between 1960 and 1995, numbers dropped by 98 percent, to fewer than 2,500.

Since then the species has rebounded, although it remains extremely threatened. In addition to poaching, the animals also face habitat loss.

African Parks, a Johannesburg-based conservation group, said earlier this year that there are fewer than 25,000 rhinos in the African wild, of which about 20 percent are black rhinos and the rest white rhinos.

In another major setback for conservation, the last remaining male northern white rhino on the planet died in March in Kenya, leaving conservationists struggling to save that sub-species using in vitro fertilization.

 


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Rising Greenhouse Gases Making Food Less Nutritious

Temperatures around the world are rising as humans burn coal, oil and other fossil fuels for energy. Burning those fuels releases heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But it does more than that. CO2 is vital for plant growth. While having more of it sounds like a good thing, scientists are finding it is not always that simple. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.


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Jeff Bezos to Charge At Least $200,000 for Space Rides, Sources Say

Jeff Bezos’ rocket company plans to charge passengers about $200,000 to $300,000 for its first trips into space next year, two people familiar with its plans told Reuters.

Potential customers and the aerospace industry have been eager to learn the cost of a ticket on Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle, to find out if it is affordable and whether the company can generate enough demand to make a profit on space tourism.

Executives at the company, started by Amazon.com Inc founder Bezos in 2000, told a business conference last month they planned test flights with passengers on the New Shepard soon, and to start selling tickets next year.

The company, based about 20 miles (32 km) south of Seattle, has made public the general design of the vehicle — comprising a launch rocket and detachable passenger capsule — but has been tight-lipped on production status and ticket prices.

Blue Origin representatives did not respond to requests for comment on its programs and pricing strategy. Bezos said in May ticket prices had not yet been decided.

One Blue Origin employee with first-hand knowledge of the pricing plan said the company will start selling tickets in the range of about $200,000 to $300,000. A second employee said tickets would cost a minimum of $200,000. They both spoke on condition of anonymity as the pricing strategy is confidential.

The New Shepard is designed to autonomously fly six passengers more than 62 miles (100 km) above Earth into suborbital space, high enough to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet before the pressurized capsule returns to Earth under parachutes.

The capsule features six observation windows Blue Origin says are nearly three times as tall as those on a Boeing Co 747 jetliner.

Blue Origin has completed eight test flights of the vertical takeoff and landing of New Shepard from its launch pad in Texas, but none with passengers aboard. Two flights have included a test dummy the company calls “Mannequin Skywalker.”

The company will do the first test in space of its capsule escape system, which propels the crew to safety should the booster explode, “within weeks,” one of the employees said.

Small step for a man

Blue Origin, whose Latin motto means “step by step, ferociously,” is working toward making civilian space flight an important niche in the global space economy, alongside satellite services and government exploration projects, already worth over $300 billion a year.

Bezos, the world’s richest person with a fortune of about $112 billion, has competition from fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Elon Musk, Tesla Inc’s chief executive.

Branson’s Virgin Galactic says it has sold about 650 tickets aboard its own planned space voyages, but has not set out a date for flights to start. The company is charging $250,000 per ticket, in line with Blue Origin’s proposed pricing.

SpaceX, founded by Musk in 2002, says its ultimate goal is to enable people to live on other planets.

All three are looking to slash the cost of spaceflight by developing reusable spacecraft, meaning prices for passengers and payloads should drop as launch frequency increases.

While Blue Origin has not disclosed its per-flight operating costs, Teal Group aerospace analyst Marco Caceres estimated each flight could cost the firm about $10 million. With six passengers per trip, that would mean losing millions of dollars per launch, at least initially.

Three sources said Blue’s first passengers are likely to include its own employees, though the company has not selected them yet.


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