April 23, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 17


Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“This unique population has given us an indication that cell phone use is associated with cancer.”

— Dr. Siegal Sadetzki of the University of Tel Aviv, on cell phones and salivary gland tumors (see “Public Health,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
Ghana’s oil — blessing or curse?
Broadband: BBC calls for market ‘intervention’
Yemen steps, uneasy, from past to future

*Public Health*
Callbacks on the cell phone cancer story

*Water*
Virtual water and real thirst


TOP STORIES

* Ghana’s Oil — Blessing or Curse?

With the discovery that Ghana is sitting atop an estimated three billion barrels of oil, the impoverished West African nation is facing not just a flood of new wealth, but also its potential “undoing.”

So said President John Kufuor at an extractive industries forum in March. His words echo widespread concerns that the unrelenting poverty and corruption that plagues other African oil nations could easily take hold in Ghana.

According to the United Nations news service, Ghanian officials say managing the flow of oil and revenue, expected to kick off in 2010 at 100,000 barrels a day, is the country’s greatest challenge since its independence 51 years ago.

The “Nigeria Scenario” is considered the benchmark to avoid.

Despite an output of 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, 70 percent of Nigeria’s 130 million citizen live on less than a dollar per day, and the nation is ranked by the U.N. as 158 out of 177 countries monitored in its “human development index.”

Source:

“Ghana: Government Prepares to Battle the ‘Oil Curse'”
United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks, April 22, 2008

* Broadband: BBC calls for Market ‘Intervention’

Citing inclusion and civic participation as trumping private profit, the British Broadcasting Corporation is making a case for government “intervention” in the broadband market to ensure universal access to affordable, high-speed Internet services.

In doing so, the BBC wades into the increasingly heated waters of the “Net Neutrality” debate.

At issue is whether the commercial owners of the telecom networks that propagate the Internet worldwide should be able to influence what is transmitted, and charge fees for higher speeds or prioritization of certain types of online content.

The BBC, as a “public service provider,” says its mission requires it to vault “all digital divides,” including social, geographic, age and ability.

This would ensure delivery of broadband Internet to communities that would benefit most from it, but which currently lack access — for example, in sparsely populated regions where demand is lower, making an investment in infrastructure less profitable to a commercial operation.

Source:

“BBC presses case for universal broadband”
Digital Spy, April 22, 2008

* Yemen Steps, Uneasy, From Past to Future

The poorest nation in the Middle East is also proving to be one of the most potentially volatile.

Yemen — the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, bordered by Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea — is opening up culturally as the Internet and wireless technologies knock down barriers to communication.

Yet water shortages, civil war, semi-autonomous tribal militias, drug trafficking, an al Qaeda presence and state-owned media add up to an uncertain future.

Most recently, the Yemen Post reported on that a Pakistani ship carrying ten tons of drugs, including hashish, heroin and pills, was intercepted by the Yemeni Coast Guard.

Yemen has become a “transit country” for drug smuggling into the Persian Gulf region, according to the newspaper.

Terrorism and civil strife also abound, according to a string of articles from the Associated Press.

A former socialist legislator, Saleh Hendi, was shot to death along with his son in the country’s north last month.

No one has claimed responsibility, but one official, speaking anonymously, said the killing may have been part of a tribal vendetta.

The AP also reported that the United Nations has closed some of its offices in Yemen, and fortified others, following a mortar attack on the U.S. embassy, and a separate attack on a housing complex for Western diplomats.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports on three explosive attacks on a police facility in southeastern Yemen, which follow a rocket-propelled grenade attack on police checkpoints earlier this month, and an attack on tourists in January that left two Belgian women and their Yemeni drivers dead.

Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the latter two attacks.

Meanwhile, United Press International reports that the latest peace agreement between the government and rebel forces, dating back to this January, appears to be failing.

The civil strife has driven 77,000 people from their homes, the U.N. estimates.

According to the AP, Yemen’s tribes are armed, and “barely acknowledge” the authority of the central government.

Two articles in the Yemen Times provide some social and ecological context to the situation.

Anwar Abdulaziz of the government’s environment division warned that Yemen’s water supply, already over-exploited by agriculture and a growing population, now faces an additional challenge in the form of a drought that he says is caused by global climate change.

“Every year the rain season starts at the beginning of March, and now Yemen is in the end of April and there is still no rain. This means that Yemen is truly affected by the climate changes,” he told the newspaper.

Although this indicates only deepening potential for crisis, hope for civil society persists.

Dr. Mohammed Mo’ammar Abdul-Wahab of Sana’a University said that the number of new media outlets produced by private citizens, advocacy groups and political parties “increases daily,” a development he praised as “undoubtedly a step forward.”

With these changes, he called for an end to the state monopoly on television and radio stations, and increased freedom for reporters and editors to travel abroad to media conferences, and educate themselves in the practice of journalism.

He also said new media should “be free of extremism and fanaticism, emphasize nationalism over localism and freely and openly discuss public issues.”

–Josh Wilson/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Increased Activities of Drug Traders in Yemen”
Yemen Post, April 21, 2008

“Official: Militants kill a lawmaker in northern Yemen”
Associated Press, April 18, 2008

“UN closes some offices in Yemen, citing security concerns”
Associated Press, April 20, 2008

“Yemeni police arrest 13 protesters in southern towns”
Associated Press, April 22, 2008

“Violence continues despite peace deal”
United Press International, April 22, 2008

“Three blasts rock police centre in eastern Yemen, no casualties”
Monstersandcritics.com, April 22, 2008

“Yemen’s Dought Caused by Climate Change”
Yemen Times, April 21-23, 2008

“Media development in Yemen”
Yemen Times, April 21-23, 2008


PUBLIC HEALTH

* Callbacks on the Cell Phone Cancer Story

The long running debate over whether cell phones cause cancer is heating up again.

The latest round of press came after the release of two studies suggesting a link between cell phone use and cancer, and one that denies such a link altogether.

Australia’s Dr. Vini Khurana made waves recently with research finding that using cell phones for more than 10 years could more than double the risk of developing malignant brain tumors.

But what hit the headlines was Khurana’s contention that cell phones could present more of a risk to public health than smoking or asbestos.

Based on a 15-month review, Khurana found increased reports of malignant brain tumors associated with heavy cell phone use, with tumors showing up near the phone user’s preferred ear for making calls.

Khurana suggested that the phones may heat up the brain, and that headset phones may “convert the user’s head into an effective, potentially self-harming antenna,” Australia’s The Age reported.

Dana Blankenhorn, who writes about health for ZDNet, wrote that he was initially skeptical, but Khurana’s report impressed him.

“Having covered this area for many years now, I can tell you that this cell phone-brain cancer scare comes up every few years, and in the past it has always been dismissed,” Blankenhorn wrote. “But even if the risk is minimal, why is the industry taking it?”

Meanwhile, a Danish study found no relation between cell phones and brain cancer.

Dr. Christoffer Johansen, of the Danish Cancer Society, found 427 people with brain cancer and 822 healthy people and questioned them about how often they used their cell phones.

His team then checked the respondents’ answers against their phone records to gauge the accuracy of their replies.

They found no correlation between frequency of calls or length of use and the presence of brain tumors, nor did they find any relation between the side of the head used for phone calls and the area in which tumors were found, according to an article in Pakistan’s International News Network.

In the New Republic, Ezekiel J. Emanuel cast doubt on a link between cell phones and brain cancer, saying, “Rates of brain cancer have remained remarkably steady despite the advent of the cell phone in 1984.”

But, even if the brain cancer link is disproven, there are other dangers to worry about.

In another study, an Israeli scientist found evidence for a link between cell phones and tumors of the salivary glands.

The study, by Dr. Siegal Sadetzki of the University of Tel Aviv and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that people who used a cell phone heavily were 50 percent more likely to develop a benign or malignant tumor in the main salivary gland than people who didn’t use cell phones.

“Unlike people in other countries, Israelis were quick to adopt cell phone technology and have continued to be exceptionally heavy users,” Sadetzki was quoted in TopCancerNews.com. “This unique population has given us an indication that cell phone use is associated with cancer.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Brain cancer fears over heavy mobile phone use”
The Age (Australia), March 31, 2008

“Cell Phones Won’t Raise Brain Tumor Risk”
International News Network (Pakistan), April 12, 2008

“Link between cell phone usage and the development of tumors”
TopCancerNews, April 12, 2008

“Who kicked up the cell phone scare?”
ZDNet, April 1, 2008

“Will Your Cell Phone Kill You?”
The New Republic, April 9, 2008


WATER

* Virtual water and real thirst

The recent hike in the price of food worldwide is usually blamed on the price of oil or the conversion of food crops to biofuels.

But a handful of experts have pointed to a simpler cause: a shortage of water.

“The two underlying causes of the world food crisis are falling supplies and rising demand on the international market,” writes environmental consultant and author Fred Pearce in the London Telegraph. “Why falling supplies? Because of major droughts in Australia, one of the world’s big three suppliers, and Ukraine, another major exporter.

“Why rising demand?” Pearce continues. “Mainly because of booming China, where demand for grain is rising sharply at a time when every last drop of water in the north of the country, its major breadbasket, is already taken. The Yellow River rarely reaches the sea now.”

Indeed, China is having serious problems with water management.

Another great Chinese river, the Yangtze, fell to a 140-year low earlier this year, the Telegraph reported in January.

Cargo ships have run aground as water drains away underneath them and the endangered Yangtze River dolphin is now presumed extinct.

According to the Telegraph, Chinese authorities have admitted that they had diverted too much water away from the Yangtze when designing the enormous Three Gorges Dam.

Pearce’s article introduces the concept of “virtual water,” a term some economists use to describe the process whereby a water-poor nation imports food from a water-rich nation.

Perhaps the surest sign that the concept is catching on is the fact that environmental blogs are now making snarky comments about it.

“Remember when calculating your carbon footprint was all the rage?” a writer for Grist asked last week, before describing a new Web site that lets reader calculate their virtual water footprint.

The site, Waterfootprint.org, takes into account not only personal water use, but diet and other indicators of virtual water.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Water – the under-reported resource crisis”
Telegraph, April 22, 2008

“Yangtze River water level at 140-year low”
Telegraph, January 17, 2008

“Virtual water is the new carbon footprint”
Grist, April 21, 2008


Editors: Josh Wilson, Will Crain

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