Category Archives: THE WORLD

Major river basins have enough water to sustainably double food production in the coming decades

Major river basins have enough water to sustainably double food production in the coming decades.

ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2011) — While water-related conflicts and shortages abound throughout the rapidly changing societies of Africa, Asia and Latin America, there is clearly sufficient water to sustain food, energy, industrial and environmental needs during the 21st century, according to two special issues of the peer-reviewed journal, Water International (Volume 35, Issue 5 and Volume 36, Issue 1), released September 26 at the XIV World Water Congress.

The report from the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) of the CGIAR finds that the “sleeping giant” of water challenges is not scarcity, but the inefficient use and inequitable distribution of the massive amounts of water that flow through the breadbaskets of key river basins such as the Nile, Ganges, Andes, Yellow, Niger and Volta.

“Water scarcity is not affecting our ability to grow enough food today,” said Alain Vidal, director of the CPWF. “Yes, there is scarcity in certain areas, but our findings show that the problem overall is a failure to make efficient and fair use of the water available in these river basins. This is ultimately a political challenge, not a resource concern.”

“Huge volumes of rainwater are lost or never used,” he added, “particularly in the rain-fed regions of sub-Saharan Africa. With modest improvements, we can generate two to three times more food than we are producing today.

While Africa has the biggest potential to increase food production, researchers identified large areas of arable land in Asia and Latin America where production is at least 10 percent below its potential. For example, in the Indus and Ganges, researchers found 23 percent of rice systems are producing about half of what they could sustainably yield.

The analysis — which involved five years of research by scientists in 30 countries around the world — is the most comprehensive effort to date to assess how, over vast regions, human societies are coping with the growing need for water to nurture crops and pastures, generate electricity, quench the thirst of rapidly growing urban centers, and sustain our environment. The findings also present a picture of the increasingly political role of water management in addressing these competing needs, especially in dealing with the most pressing problem facing humanity today: doubling food production in the developing world to feed a surging population, which, globally, is expected to expand from seven to 9.5 billion people by 2050.

The 10 river basins that were studied include: the Andes and São Francisco in South America; the Limpopo, Niger, Nile and Volta basins in Africa; and the Ganges, Indus, Karkheh, Mekong, and Yellow in Asia. The basins — distinct and gargantuan geographic areas defined by water flows from high-ground to streams that feed major river systems — cover 13.5 million square kilometers and are home to some 1.5 billion people, 470 million of whom are amongst the world’s poorest.

According to Vidal, the 10 basins were selected for study because they embody the full measure of water-related challenges in the developing world. The research examines the role of policy and governance in managing water resources in ways that reduce poverty and improve living standards for the greatest number of people

“The most surprising finding is that despite all of the pressures facing our basins today, there are relatively straightforward opportunities to satisfy our development needs and alleviate poverty for millions of people without exhausting our most precious natural resource,” said Dr. Simon Cook, of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Leader of the CPWF’s Basin Focal Research Project (BFRP).

For example, Cook and his colleagues found that if donors and government ministries put more emphasis on supporting rain-fed agriculture, food production can increase substantially and rapidly. In Africa, it was found that the vast majority of cropland is rainfed and researchers found that only about four percent of available water is captured for crops and livestock.

“With a major push to intensify rainfed agriculture, we could feed the world without increasing the strain on river basins systems,” said Cook.

The authors also note that boosting food production in the basins studied requires looking beyond crops to consider more efficient uses of water to improve livestock operations and fisheries. Water policies often ignore the role livestock and fish play in local livelihoods and diets. For example, the researchers found that in the Niger basin, freshwater fisheries support 900,000 people while 40 million people in the Mekong depend on fisheries for at least part of the year. In the Nile, researchers note that almost half of the water in the basin flows through livestock systems.

“The basin perspective is critical in order to assess the upstream and downstream impacts of water allocation policies, and to determine opportunities for optimizing the sum of benefits across many residents,” said Dennis Wichelns, Deputy Director General at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which was a major partner in the research.

The researchers contrast the poor use of water resources within river basins observed in many areas — which they refer to as “dead spots” for agriculture development — to “bright spots” of water efficiency. They said bright spots can be found in the large areas of the Ganges, Nile and Yellow River basins, where farmers and governments have responded to development challenges by vastly improving the amount of food produced from available water. They also single out “hot spots” — which can be found in the in the Indus, Yellow, Nile and Limpopo river basins — where there is mounting concern and conflict over sharing water resources and reaching consensus on development approaches.

Confronting the “Complete Fragmentation” of Water Management

Cook and his colleagues caution that while globally there is enough water to sustain human development and environmental needs, water-related conflicts will continue if particular issues like food security and energy production are considered in isolation from one another. Cook observed that in most areas there is a “complete fragmentation of how river basins are managed amongst different actors and even countries where the water needs of different sectors — agriculture, industry, environment and mining — are considered separately rather than as interrelated and interdependent.”

“In many cases, we need a complete rethink of how government ministries take advantage of the range of benefits coming from river basins, rather than focusing on one sector such as hydropower, irrigation or industry,” the authors stated.

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At least 75 Kenyans dead after pipeline explosion

At least 75 Kenyans dead after pipeline explosion – Yahoo! News.

NAIROBI, Kenya – A leaking gasoline pipeline in Kenya’s capital exploded on Monday, turning part of a slum into an inferno in which at least 75 people were killed and more than 100 hurt.

Flames leapt out from the pipeline in a radius of some 300 yards (meters), setting shacks ablaze and incinerating scores of people. Reporters later saw clusters of charred bodies and blackened bones at the site. Some burned bodies floated in a nearby river filled with sewage. Homes had been built right up to the pipeline, the residents said.

“I’ve lost count of the number of bodies,” said Wilfred Mbithi, the policeman in charge of operations in Nairobi as he stood at the scene. “Many had dived into the river trying to put out their flames.”

Red Cross official Pamela Indiaka said the Red Cross is providing body bags and has dealt with 75 bodies so far. The death toll from the blast may still rise.

Nearby, a young woman clawed through smoldering timbers, screaming in grief. Others wandered by the remains of the inferno, frantically dialing phone numbers that didn’t go through or staring around in disbelief.

Fires still smoldered among the twisted wreckage of corrugated iron sheets and scattered possessions. Visibility was poor because of rain and smoke.

Resident Joseph Mwangi, 34, said he was feeding his cow when people went running past him, calling out that there was a leak in the pipeline. He said others started drawing fuel and that he was going to go and get a bucket and get fuel too when he heard an explosion around 9 a.m. By then fuel had leaked into the river and parts of the river had also caught fire. People in flames were jumping into the fiery, stinking mess, he said.

Moments after speaking to the AP, Mwangi discovered two small charred bodies in the burnt wreckage of his home.

“Those were my children,” he said blankly, before collapsing on the ground sobbing.

Another man, Michael Muriuki, found the body of his 5-year-old daughter still smoldering. He ran to the river for water to put her out. He took a deep breath and struggled for control before speaking.

“Her name was Josephine Muriuki. She was five,” he said.

At the time of the explosion, the narrow, twisting alleyways would have been packed with people on their way to work or school who had stopped to try to scoop up fuel. The flimsy homes of corrugated iron sheets would have offered little resistance to the blast.

The Red Cross was conducting search and rescue operations and had set up two tents for first aid and counseling, said Bernard Magila, who was helping the operation. Bodybags and materials for temporary shelter were also being provided.

At least 112 burn victims have arrived so far at Kenyatta National Hospital and they urgently need blood donors and blankets, said Richard Lisiyampe, the head of the hospital. Many children were among the victims. Most had burns covering more than a third of their bodies, he said. Some were unrecognizable, said St. John’s Ambulance Service spokesman Fred Majiwa.

Inside the hospital, beds were crowded together and doctors and nurses rushed from victim to victim. Many had long strips of skin hanging from their heads and bodies. One man picked at his hands distractedly, peeling off skin like gloves. Relatives clustered outside operating rooms, waiting for news.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “sorrow and sympathy” to the families of the victims and the government and said “the United Nations stands in solidarity with the people of Kenya at this difficult moment,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

“This is a terrible accident,” said Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who visited the wounded in hospital. He said the government would cover medical expenses for the injured and pay compensation to those who lost loved ones. He also said he had visited the offices of the state-owned Kenya Pipeline Company, who operate the pipeline.

They had told Odinga that the explosion was caused by a leak from the pipeline into nearby sewage, he said. Workers who answered the phones at their offices declined to give a comment or their names.

“There will be a proper investigation,” Odinga said.

In 2009, at least 120 people were killed when they were trying to scoop fuel spilled from a crashed petrol tanker in Kenya and it exploded.

___

Associated Press writers Katharine Houreld and Malkhadir M. Muhumed contributed to this report.

Poisoned school lunch kills Peru children

BBC News – Poisoned school lunch kills Peru children.

Three children have died and more than 50 others are seriously ill in Peru after eating a school meal contaminated with pesticide, officials say.

The children were being fed by a government nutrition programme for the poor, at a remote mountain village in the north of the country.

It is thought the meal of rice and fish was prepared in a container which may have previously held rat poison.

At least three adults have also been taken ill.

The mass poisoning happened in the village of Redondo in the Cajamarca region, about 750km (470 miles) north of the capital, Lima.

The three dead were between six and 10 years old.

The food had been donated by the National Food Assistance Programme, which gives food to schools in the poorest parts of the country.

The mother of one of the children who died said they showed signs of having been poisoned.

“I think it was poison because all the kids are purple, from all parts of the school,” said the mother, who was not named.

“My little boy has died. My nine-year-old boy, Miguel Angel, has died.”

Peruvian health official Miguel Zumaeta said the incident “looks like it was a carbonates intoxication, which means rat poison”.

Prosecutors and health ministry officials are investigating how the meal became tainted.

In a similar case in 1999, 24 children died in a village near Cusco in southern Peru after eating food contaminated by pesticide.

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Marcoule, France nuclear site explosion kills one

BBC News – France nuclear: Marcoule site explosion kills one.

One person has been killed and four injured, one seriously, in a blast at the Marcoule nuclear site in France.

There was no risk of a radioactive leak after the blast, caused by a fire near a furnace in the Centraco radioactive waste storage site, said officials.

The owner of the southern French plant, national electricity provider EDF, said it had been “an industrial accident, not a nuclear accident”.

The cause of the blast was not yet known, said the company.

The explosion hit the area at 11:45 local time (09:45 GMT). A security cordon was set up as a precaution.

But interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet later said there had been no leak of radiation, neither inside nor outside the plant.

None of the injured workers was contaminated by radiation, said officials. The worker who died was killed by the blast and not by exposure to nuclear material.

The Centraco treatment centre belongs to a subsidiary of EDF. It produces MOX fuel, which recycles plutonium from nuclear weapons. There are no nuclear reactors on site.

Analysis

The French nuclear programme does not have a stellar record of transparency. In environmental circles, particular opprobrium is reserved for officials who in 1986 claimed the Chernobyl accident would have no impact on France – a statement lampooned as indicating officials believed radioactive fallout observed national boundaries.

What this incident implies for the future of the French nuclear programme is not entirely clear. If it remains a relatively minor matter, it will probably be passed off as the type of thing that regrettably happens in all types of industrial facility.

However, Marcoule is on the list of candidate sites to host one of the European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPRs) that according to government policy are to provide the next generation of French citizens with nuclear electricity.

The EDF spokesman said blast happened in a furnace used to burn waste, including fuels, tools and clothing which had been used in nuclear energy production but had only very low levels of radiation.

“The fire caused by the explosion was under control,” he said. Another official later said the incident was over.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was in touch with the French authorities to learn more about the nature of the explosion.

Speaking on the sidelines of a scheduled meeting of the IAEA’s board, Director General Yukiya Amano said the organisation’s incident centre had been “immediately activated”.

France’s Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciuscko-Morizet visited the site on Monday, to “help carry out a precise evaluation of the possible radiological impact of this accident”.

“For the time being, no exterior impact has been detected,” the AFP news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

“There are several detectors on the outside and none of them detected anything, the building is sound.”

Stress tests

Marcoule was opened in 1955 and is one of France’s oldest nuclear sites, though it has been extensively modernised.

It is located in the Gard department in Languedoc-Roussillon region, near France’s Mediterranean coast.

Macoule nuclear site, France (12 Sept 2011) Marcoule is one of France’s oldest nuclear facilities but has no reactors on site

All the country’s 58 nuclear reactors have been put through stress tests in recent months, following the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant which was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

EDF’s share prices fell by more than 6% as news of the blast emerged.

France is the world’s most nuclear-dependent country, relying on nuclear power to meet 75% of its energy needs, so safety in the industry is a highly sensitive issue, says the BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris.

In June, France announced it was investing 1bn euros (£860m) in nuclear power, including a significant boost for safety research.

French nuclear giant Areva is developing the next generation of nuclear reactors and has been involved in a huge publicity campaign since the Fukushima disaster to reassure the public of the safety of nuclear energy.

Other countries in Europe, including Germany, Italy and Switzerland, have said they will reduce or phase out their use of nuclear power over the next few years.

Map

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Warming seas could smother seafood

Warming seas could smother seafood – environment – 08 September 2011 – New Scientist.

Seafood could be going off a lot of menus as the world warms. More than half of a group of fish crucial for the marine food web might die if, as predicted, global warming reduces the amount of oxygen dissolved in some critical areas of the ocean – including some of our richest fisheries.

The prediction is based on a unique set of records that goes back to 1951. California has regularly surveyed its marine plankton and baby fish to support the sardine fishery. “There is almost no other dataset going back so far that includes every kind of fish,” says Tony Koslow of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, who heads the survey. The survey records also include information on water temperature, salinity and the dissolved oxygen content.

Koslow’s team studied records of 86 fish species found consistently in the samples and discovered that the abundance of 27 of them correlated strongly with the amount of oxygen 200 to 400 metres down: a 20 per cent drop in oxygen meant a 63 per cent drop in the fish. There have been several episodes of low oxygen during the period in question, mainly in the 1950s and since 1984.

Global climate models predict that 20 to 40 per cent of the oxygen at these depths will disappear over the next century due to warming, says Koslow – mainly because these waters get oxygen by mixing with surface waters. Warmer, lighter surface waters are less likely to mix with the colder, denser waters beneath.

Of the 27 species most affected by low oxygen, says Koslow, 24 were “mesopelagic”: fish that spend the daytime in deep, dark waters below 200 metres to avoid predators such as squid that hunt by sight. There are 10 billion tonnes of mesopelagic fish globally – 10 times the annual global commercial catch – and they are a vital food for other fish and marine birds and mammals.

Out of the depths

In large segments of the Indian, eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans called oxygen minimum zones (OMZs), patterns of ocean currents already permit little downward mixing of surface water, so the dark depths where mesopelagics hide have barely enough oxygen for survival. Worldwide, OMZs are expanding both in area and vertically, pushing “hypoxic” water – water with too little oxygen for survival – to ever-shallower levels. Last year, Japanese researchers reported that this has nearly halved the depths inhabited by Pacific cod.

The California coast is an OMZ. When oxygen levels are even lower than usual, the hypoxic zone starts up to 90 metres closer to the surface. This means fish must stay in shallower, more brightly lit water, says Koslow, at greater risk from predators – which, he suspects, is what kills them. In the California data, predatory rockfish in fact boomed during periods of low oxygen.

“This is important work,” says William Gilly of Stanford University’s marine lab in Pacific Grove, California. He studies Humboldt squid, an OMZ predator whose recent movements seem consistent with Koslow’s idea.

“These findings are an example of the kinds of changes we will see more broadly throughout our oceans in coming decades, especially in OMZs,” says Frank Whitney of the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada. Unfortunately, he notes, water and nutrient movements within OMZs make them among our richest fishing grounds.

Journal reference: Marine Ecology Progress Series, DOI: 10.3354/meps09270

Mega space storm would kill satellites for a decade

Mega space storm would kill satellites for a decade – space – 13 September 2011 – New Scientist.

A MAJOR solar storm would not only damage Earth’s infrastructure, it could also leave a legacy of radiation that keeps killing satellites for years.

When the sun belches a massive cloud of charged particles at Earth, it can damageMovie Camera our power grids and fry satellites’ electronics. But that’s not all. New calculations suggest that a solar megastorm could create a persistent radiation problem in low-Earth orbit, disabling satellites for up to a decade after the storm first hit.

It would do this by destroying a natural buffer against radiation – a cloud of charged particles, or plasma, that normally surrounds Earth out to a distance of four times the planet’s radius.

The relatively high density of plasma in the cloud prevents the formation of electromagnetic waves that would otherwise accelerate electrons to high speeds, turning them into a form of radiation. This limits the amount of radiation in the innermost of two radiation belts that surround Earth.

But solar outbursts can erode the cloud. In October 2003, a major outburst whittled the cloud down so that it only extended to two Earth radii. A repeat of a huge outburst that occurred in 1859 – which is expected – would erode the cloud to almost nothing.

Yuri Shprits of the University of California in Los Angeles led a team that simulated how such a large storm would affect the radiation around Earth.

They found that in the absence of the cloud, electromagnetic waves accelerated large numbers of electrons to high speed in Earth’s inner radiation belt, causing a huge increase in radiation there. The inner radiation belt is densest at about 3000 kilometres above Earth’s equator, which is higher than low-Earth orbit. But the belt hugs Earth more tightly above high latitude regions, overlapping with satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Speeding electrons cause electric charge to accumulate on satellite electronics, prompting sparks and damage. Increasing the number of speeding electrons would drastically shorten the lifetime of a typical satellite, the team calculates (Space Weather, DOI: 10.1029/2011sw000662).

The researchers say that the destructive radiation could hang about for a long time, spiralling around Earth’s magnetic field lines. In 1962, a US nuclear test carried out in space flooded low-Earth orbit with radiation that lasted a decade and probably ruined several satellites.

“When you get this radiation that far in, it tends to be quite long-lived and very persistent,” says Ian Mann of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, who was not involved in the study.

Thicker metal shielding around satellite electronics would help, says Shprits. The persistent radiation would also be hazardous for astronauts and electronics on the International Space Station.

An Impeccable Financial Disaster

An Impeccable Disaster – NYTimes.com.

 

On Thursday Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank or E.C.B. — Europe’s equivalent to Ben Bernanke — lost his sang-froid. In response to a question about whether the E.C.B. is becoming a “bad bank” thanks to its purchases of troubled nations’ debt, Mr. Trichet, his voice rising, insisted that his institution has performed “impeccably, impeccably!” as a guardian of price stability.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Paul Krugman

Readers’ Comments

Indeed it has. And that’s why the euro is now at risk of collapse.

Financial turmoil in Europe is no longer a problem of small, peripheral economies like Greece. What’s under way right now is a full-scale market run on the much larger economies of Spain and Italy. At this point countries in crisis account for about a third of the euro area’s G.D.P., so the common European currency itself is under existential threat.

And all indications are that European leaders are unwilling even to acknowledge the nature of that threat, let alone deal with it effectively.

I’ve complained a lot about the “fiscalization” of economic discourse here in America, the way in which a premature focus on budget deficits turned Washington’s attention away from the ongoing jobs disaster. But we’re not unique in that respect, and in fact the Europeans have been much, much worse.

Listen to many European leaders — especially, but by no means only, the Germans — and you’d think that their continent’s troubles are a simple morality tale of debt and punishment: Governments borrowed too much, now they’re paying the price, and fiscal austerity is the only answer.

Yet this story applies, if at all, to Greece and nobody else. Spain in particular had a budget surplus and low debt before the 2008 financial crisis; its fiscal record, one might say, was impeccable. And while it was hit hard by the collapse of its housing boom, it’s still a relatively low-debt country, and it’s hard to make the case that the underlying fiscal condition of Spain’s government is worse than that of, say, Britain’s government.

So why is Spain — along with Italy, which has higher debt but smaller deficits — in so much trouble? The answer is that these countries are facing something very much like a bank run, except that the run is on their governments rather than, or more accurately as well as, their financial institutions.

Here’s how such a run works: Investors, for whatever reason, fear that a country will default on its debt. This makes them unwilling to buy the country’s bonds, or at least not unless offered a very high interest rate. And the fact that the country must roll its debt over at high interest rates worsens its fiscal prospects, making default more likely, so that the crisis of confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And as it does, it becomes a banking crisis as well, since a country’s banks are normally heavily invested in government debt.

Now, a country with its own currency, like Britain, can short-circuit this process: if necessary, the Bank of England can step in to buy government debt with newly created money. This might lead to inflation (although even that is doubtful when the economy is depressed), but inflation poses a much smaller threat to investors than outright default. Spain and Italy, however, have adopted the euro and no longer have their own currencies. As a result, the threat of a self-fulfilling crisis is very real — and interest rates on Spanish and Italian debt are more than twice the rate on British debt.

Which brings us back to the impeccable E.C.B.

What Mr. Trichet and his colleagues should be doing right now is buying up Spanish and Italian debt — that is, doing what these countries would be doing for themselves if they still had their own currencies. In fact, the E.C.B. started doing just that a few weeks ago, and produced a temporary respite for those nations. But the E.C.B. immediately found itself under severe pressure from the moralizers, who hate the idea of letting countries off the hook for their alleged fiscal sins. And the perception that the moralizers will block any further rescue actions has set off a renewed market panic.

Adding to the problem is the E.C.B.’s obsession with maintaining its “impeccable” record on price stability: at a time when Europe desperately needs a strong recovery, and modest inflation would actually be helpful, the bank has instead been tightening money, trying to head off inflation risks that exist only in its imagination.

And now it’s all coming to a head. We’re not talking about a crisis that will unfold over a year or two; this thing could come apart in a matter of days. And if it does, the whole world will suffer.

So will the E.C.B. do what needs to be done — lend freely and cut rates? Or will European leaders remain too focused on punishing debtors to save themselves? The whole world is watching.

Nukes: a Problem That Hasn't Gone Away

The Final Failure – By Samuel R. Berger and Steve Andreasen | Foreign Policy.

In the decade since Osama bin Laden masterminded the 9/11 attacks, U.S. security policy has centered on al Qaeda and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — fueled by a deep and bipartisan concern that a terrorist group might acquire the means to strike again, this time perhaps with nuclear weapons.

Although al Qaeda, Iraq, and Afghanistan still present major challenges, their decade of dominance over U.S. security policy is at an end — broken by an increasingly successful effort to destroy al Qaeda’s ability to target the United States, the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, and the Obama administration’s commitment to turn security in Afghanistan over to the Afghan government by 2014. A new set of challenges is emerging to occupy the attention of U.S. policymakers: reducing instability in Pakistan; rebuilding the American and global economies; advancing the U.S.-China relationship; making progress on global energy and climate policy; enhancing cybersecurity; and most recently, managing the risks and opportunities presented by the Arab Spring.

As this new set of challenges unfolds over the next decade, American leaders must increase their focus on what remains a vital U.S. national interest: nuclear threat reduction. As the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign inevitably creates an increasingly acrid partisan atmosphere, it is incumbent on all leaders to maintain a nonpartisan approach to reducing nuclear dangers.

There have been bipartisan successes in combating nuclear threats under the past four U.S. presidents — two Democrats and two Republicans. Thousands of nuclear weapons, along with their missiles and launchers, were removed and dismantled from Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan; the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was extended indefinitely; a comprehensive global ban on nuclear testing was concluded (though ratification by key states, including the United States, is still necessary for the treaty to enter into force); A.Q. Khan’s illicit trafficking in nuclear weapons designs, technologies, and materials was shut down; the Proliferation Security Initiative to interdict trade in weapons of mass destruction was launched; and the United States and Russia enacted the New START agreement, which reduced nuclear stockpiles further.

Yet even with these important steps — along with the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan, the weakening of al Qaeda, and the drive to “reset” relations with Russia — the amount of nuclear tinder that remains in the world today could still ignite a calamity of historic proportions, one that would change our world forever. Matthew Bunn, a Harvard University expert on nuclear proliferation and terrorism, recently stated that a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb — somewhat smaller than the one dropped on Hiroshima — detonated in Midtown Manhattan could kill a half-million people and result in $1 trillion in direct economic damage.

The nuclear bottom line remains ominous. The spread of nuclear weapons and know-how continues in unstable regions where the potential for conflict is high — including Northeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East — and in countries like North Korea and Iran that threaten the United States and its friends and allies. Even with the Cold War now 20 years behind us, the United States and Russia still deploy thousands of strategic nuclear weapons on high alert and tactical nuclear weapons throughout Europe, unnecessarily heightening the risk of accidental, unauthorized, or mistaken nuclear use, and of terrorist groups acquiring a weapon or dangerous nuclear material.

During the last two U.S. presidential elections, both the Republican and Democratic nominees recognized the nuclear danger and agreed on the broad outlines of a response. In 2004, when asked during the first presidential debate to identify the most serious threat to U.S. security, both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry were unequivocal: the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the possible use of these weapons by terrorists. In 2008, both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama embraced the policy framework outlined in two Wall Street Journal essays by national-security wise men George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn. These articles called for a global effort to pursue practical steps that would reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately end them as a threat to the world.

Can this consensus hold during the 2012 presidential campaign? As non-incumbents in 2008, both McCain and Obama were able to lay claim to this new, nonpartisan, nuclear policy initiative by senior American statesmen. Now that Obama has adopted this approach, his eventual opponent will likely face pressure to differentiate himself or herself from the president by finding fault in his policies. One can already predict the political arguments that might be used against Obama — too accommodating to the Russians on New START and missile defense, too unrealistic to pursue steps toward a world free of nuclear arms.

A partisan political debate over nuclear threat reduction would not be without costs. If such a debate unfolds over the next 18 months, nuclear nonproliferation initiatives could be put on hold and the nonpartisan foundation built over the past four administrations could be dangerously eroded.

What will it take to avoid such an outcome? First, Obama must continue to lead — as only the president can. He will have the opportunity to do so when he meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this fall and when he hosts the NATO summit in Chicago next May. At those events, he can advance U.S. and NATO cooperation with Russia on missile defense, which represents a potential game-changer in Euro-Atlantic security. He can also press for a reduction of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, whose continued deployment provides more opportunities for terrorists than it does security for either Washington or Moscow.

Second, leaders in both parties should encourage their presidential candidates to underscore the continuing need for a nonpartisan approach to reducing nuclear threats. While it’s unreasonable to expect complete agreement on every point, the public deserves a debate whose goal is not to score political points, but to focus solely on reducing nuclear threats to the American people.

Too much to ask? Not if we expect to act with the urgency necessary to avoid what President John F. Kennedy once referred to as “the final failure.”

Samuel R. Berger, chairman of Albright Stonebridge Group, was U.S. national security advisor from 1997 to 2001. Steve Andreasen, consultant to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, was director for defense policy and arms control on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 1993 to 2001.

Bangladesh's 'golden fibre': Jute makes a comeback

BBC News – Bangladesh’s ‘golden fibre’ comes back from the brink.

WATCH: Jute has been processed in the same way for generations

Jute, a vegetable fibre that can be spun into sackcloth, used to be the ‘golden fibre’ of Bangladesh.

Technology of Business

It brought much-needed foreign income to the impoverished nation.

But it lost its lustre in the 1980s after synthetic materials like polythene and plastics were introduced.

Now the natural fibre has made a spectacular comeback.

Exports of jute and jute products from Bangladesh this fiscal year crossed a record billion dollars as demand for the natural fibre is steadily increasing.

Jute Jute is grown all over Bangladesh

With growing environmental awareness, jute, which is bio-degradable, has become the preferred alternative to polluting synthetic bags.

Jute is considered to be the second most important natural fibre after cotton in terms of cultivation and usage. It is mainly grown in eastern India, Bangladesh, China and Burma.

Until recently the fibre was used mostly as a packaging material. With a diversification of jute products, the demand for jute has increased.

“By processing the fibre mechanically and by treating it chemically, now jute can be used to make bags, carpets, textiles and even as insulation material,” says Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a scientist at the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute in Dhaka.

Jute being soaked After harvesting, the jute is stored in water until it begins to rot

When synthetics like polythene bags came into widespread use, the demand for jute declined and many jute mills in countries like Bangladesh were shut down.

Thousands lost their jobs and farmers shifted from jute to more profitable rice cultivation.

Today, as demand increases, more farmers are returning to this traditional crop.

It is estimated that nearly five million farmers are involved in jute plant cultivation in Bangladesh. It plays a key supportive role to the rural economy of Bangladesh.

Once the jute plants are harvested they are bundled together and immersed in running water and allowed to rot.

Jute being separated One it has become soft, the jute fibre is separated by hand

Then the fibres are stripped from the plant. The stripped fibre is dried and later sent to mills for processing.

Golam Moazzam, a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, in Dhaka says: “It is important to note that policy support also contributed to its widespread use of jute both locally and internationally.

“For example, the Bangladeshi government has made it compulsory to use jute bags for packaging of food grains.”

New uses

Jute is also versatile, strong and long-lasting and scientists say they are discovering more uses for it in different sectors.

For example, Geotextiles, a diversified jute product, is used for soil-erosion control and also used in laying roads to give more durability. The natural fibre is also used to make pulp and paper.

Jute bundles Once dry, the jute fibres are bundled and sent to factories to be processed

Bangladeshi scientists are now working on an ambitious project to blend jute fabric with cotton to produce denim fabric.

They say if the jute plant is harvested earlier than the usual period of 120 days, then it gives a softer fabric.

“If this special quality of fibre is chemically modified and bleached then it becomes softer. If we can blend it with cotton then we can manufacture denim fabric and diversified textile products,” says Mr Asaduzzaman

If this process can be commercialised, he says, it will bring down the demand for cotton, which is also becoming dearer day by day.

The price of fabric can be reduced by a half, bringing benefits to the country’s garment sector.

Jute delivery The resurgence of the jute industry has created jobs for many local people

However, there are bottlenecks.

Special machines are required to blend this fibre with cotton and they are yet to be produced commercially. Scientists hope spinning factories will be able to install these machines in the near future.

“Unfortunately, there is not much research going on in terms promoting diversified jute products,” says Mr Moazzam.

“Countries like Bangladesh and India, who are the major jute exporting countries, should conduct collaborative research to find out diversification of jute products.”

Infrastructure bank could be part of jobs package

Infrastructure bank could be part of jobs package – Yahoo! News.

WASHINGTON – A national infrastructure bank that would entice private investors into road and rail projects could be a major part of the jobs package that President Barack Obama hopes will finally bring relief to the unemployed.

The White House hasn’t divulged the contents of the package that Obama is to unveil in an address to a joint session of Congress next week. But the president has pushed the idea of an infrastructure bank in recent speeches and has praised Senate and House bills that create such a government-sponsored lending institution.

Whether the bank, which would need time to organize, could have any real impact on the jobs situation in the coming year — and particularly before the November 2012 elections — is in dispute.

Obama seems to think it would.

“We’ve got the potential to create an infrastructure bank that could put construction workers to work right now, rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our vital infrastructure all across the country,” he said at a news conference in July.

But Janet Kavinoky, director of infrastructure issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cautioned that “even in the next two years I don’t believe the bank is going to be that kind of job creator.”

The best way to spur job growth in the short term is for Congress to pass long-stalled bills to fund aviation and highway programs, she said.

The Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the infrastructure bank. Kavinoky said the United States is one of the few large countries that lack a central source of low-cost financing for construction projects. But she said it’s going to take time to get it running and come up with a pipeline of projects where funds can be invested.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who’s sponsoring an infrastructure bank bill, argued that “we have projects all across America that are ready to go tomorrow.” He said the bank “could have money flowing in the next year easily.”

Michael Likosky, senior fellow at the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge and author of “Obama’s Bank: Financing a Durable New Deal,” says he is working with transportation agencies in California and New York that “are waiting for the federal government to say they are going to support these projects.”

A commitment to a national infrastructure bank could also provide a positive spark to financial markets and encourage investment, he said.

The bank would supplement federal spending on infrastructure by promoting private-sector investment in projects of national or regional significance. The private sector currently provides only about 6 percent of infrastructure spending.

Supporters, which range from the Chamber of Commerce to the AFL-CIO, say pension funds, private equity funds and sovereign wealth funds have hundreds of billions of dollars ready to be invested in low-risk infrastructure projects.

It’s better than having pension fund money go to Treasury bonds, Likosky said. “It’s really about changing our approach; we’re in tough economic times and we will be for a while. We have to make sure the money we have goes further.”

The Kerry bill would require $10 billion in start-up money from the government to get the first loans going and cover administrative costs. The bank would be government owned, run by a board of directors, independent of any federal agency and self-sustaining after the initial expense. Public-private partnerships, corporations and state and local governments would be eligible for the loans.

The bank’s directors would pick which projects to finance based on an analysis of costs, benefits and revenue streams, such as from tolls or fees, for repaying the loan. Once the terms of the loan, including interest rates and fees to cover risk, are set, the Treasury Department would disburse the loan.

Urban projects would have to be at least $100 million in size, rural ones $25 million. The infrastructure bank’s loan could cover no more than 50 percent of a project’s costs.

“There is going to be a revenue stream for payback and therefore the project is going to stand on its own because it will be a good enough project to attract private-sector funding,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, one of several Republican co-sponsors of the Kerry plan.

Supporters estimate the bank could set up as much as $160 billion in government loans over a decade and anchor as much as $650 billion in projects.

In the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has a similar bill that relies on $25 billion in start-up money and makes use of bonds as well as loans to stimulate construction projects. Both Kerry and DeLauro would cover transportation, water and energy projects.

DeLauro would also include communications projects. She says her bill is modeled after the European Investment Bank, which has been financing infrastructure projects for 50 years and last year invested more than $100 billion.

Obama, in his 2012 budget proposal, envisioned spending $30 billion to start an infrastructure bank within the Transportation Department that would provide grants as well as loans to transportation projects.

That idea drew opposition from the House Transportation Committee chairman, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. He said in a recent article in the congressional newspaper Roll Call that it would be better to increase help for existing state infrastructure banks “rather than increasing the size of the bloated federal bureaucracy, as some advocate, by creating a national infrastructure bank.”

Kerry pointed to a 2009 American Society of Civil Engineers report that said $2.2 trillion needs to be spent over five years to bring the nation’s roads, bridges and water systems up to an adequate level. He said Congress needs to both pass a new highway bill and agree on alternatives like the bank.

“If we can leverage $650 billion and get money going in the transportation bill, we can begin to nibble away at the problem,” Kerry said.

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