Monthly Archives: February 2012

Eradicating Deadly Diseases Forever

Something really cool is happening in India. Something that most people haven’t taken much notice of but which is truly astonishing and worthy of celebration across the globe. The deadly disease of polio has almost completely been eradicated, and India may be declared disease free within the next few weeks. This is a remarkable achievement for a country once deemed an epicenter of the disease.

Is it important that we ask ourselves: what worked? The disease is still present in three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — and the battle against will need to continue. Partly an international effort, partly a determined effort by the government itself, and a lot of money through various organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Teams of volunteers from Rotary International also made it their mission to finish polio off once and for all.

India’s intensive effort even has extended to setting up polio vaccination stalls at the closest train station to the Pakistan border. Perhaps this self-protective step may even help Pakistan in its own steps to eradicate the disease.

Uganda Man with Polio Using Flip-Flops on Hands to Walk

It would be wonderful if the world would stop and acknowledge India’s incredible feat but it seems we are too distracted with other things. However, I do fervently hope that we do not forget the dangers of this terrible disease and relax our guard. Fortunately, these brave volunteers and health workers have worked tirelessly to make polio history, and for a while, I have high hopes that we will not easily forget.

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC

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Can Tech Both Old and New Avert the Coming Aquapalyse?

We all know it’s coming: the Impending Doom of the Global Water Crisis when we all end up in the “Mad Max” world where clean water is more valuable than gold. Many in the media and the environmental community are strongly on this dramatic bandwagon and we are bombarded with messages presaging the coming “Aquacalypse.”

And, yes, we are certainly facing some pretty daunting problems worldwide as our population increases, demand for arable farmland goes up, and certain industries (the new and as yet, unknown practices of the gas “fracking” industry come to mind) and countries (China is getting slightly better but recent spills indicate there are still massive problems), seem to be determined to ignore the issue.

But countering this dismal view of our blue planet’s future are some organizations and people working rather more quietly towards a better managed water future.

A very old technology as well as a simple, cheap and smart one is being used again as described here, Peru finds new solution to a very old problem. Fogtraps have been around for a long time (and even, apparently, in the distant future, making it into Frank Herbert’s epic Dune novels!) so it’s not really a “new” solution but it is ingenious, and it does make me wonder what other wisdom from ancient cultures we have not yet discovered. (Peru has a relatively decent rate, 84%, of access to clean water for its citizens, although, as the article says, they need to do better.)

In more recent years, a movement towards better management of our water resources with technology is also taking place. An Israeli company, TaKaDu, is using the latest in software technology to eliminate water waste and streamline existing public water infrastructure. One interesting quote from TaKaDu’s website says a lot: “Water loss, sometimes referred to as Non-Revenue Water (NRW), amounts to 25-30% of the world’s water production.” A lot of this is lost due to easily fixed problems like leaky pipes. Maybe one of the best solutions to the world’s water problems is as simple as calling your plumber.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Ending Hunger

Wouldn’t it be great to end hunger worldwide once and for all? For a long time, this seemed like an impossible dream. Then, in the latter half of the 20th century, the Green revolution in agriculture began, aid organizations began to look at what really worked, and infant mortality began dropping. Today, a little over half the people who were dying of hunger or hunger-related causes 40 years ago, are lost each day. And that’s with a significant increase in world population!

So what about Somalia? This is about as broken a country as you can find. But, on February 3, the U.N. announced that the famine was “over” (though acknowledging that huge amounts of work still needed to be done). The rains had returned, and people began returning to their homes to plant crops and put their lives back together as best they could.

What seems to have been overlooked in the whole crisis by the media is that, despite the large numbers of deaths and the initial slow response of the international community, the reaction, when it happened, was actually quite quick and effective. Refugee camp space with neighboring countries, Kenya and Ethiopia, was secured; aid organizations even reached out to Al-Shabab and succeeded in getting into previously off-limits territory; the capital, Mogadishu, was re-taken by African Union troops, and the Somali government, previously in exile, moved back in.

Just a couple of decades ago, Ethiopia was enveloped by famine and it took years to get under control. Whatever the international community’s failings this time around, the fact that this famine was relatively under control in less than a year, speaks volumes about changes in the approach of the aid community. Lessons were learned and lives were saved in Somalia, which gives me much new hope that we really can end global hunger and poverty.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

P.S. For a great piece on current trends which are heading towards ending hunger, see this excellent summary by The Hunger Project’s John Coonrod!

How to Cook without a Fire

One of the most difficult facets of life for the poorest people in developing countries, is the daily work of simple cooking. First you must gather firewood (and water), then you need to transport this to where you live, and cook your food over an open flame, while inhaling smoke from this highly inefficient means of cooking your meals. Smoke from indoor cooking fires kills more than 2 million children a year in the developing world.

Despite the quantities of oil and gas currently being pumped out of the ground in Africa, most of the rural population still depends on firewood or inefficient charcoal as shown in this slideshow of people making charcoal in Liberia. (Liberia has severe fuel poverty and a non-existent rating from the World Bank for Alternative Energy.) Both the firewood gathering and the process for making charcoal have contributed to deforestation as well. The time spent in these activities can also contribute to children’s inability to spend sufficient time in school and the distances traveled can frequently present life-threatening situations for women especially, as in Darfur.

A potential solution to these many problems is solar cooking and there are several organizations involved in getting the technology into the hands of the people who most need it. These cookers work purely with the bright light of the sun (no fires!), cook the food in a better way, preserving nutrients, and can even be used to purify water. (Solar Cookers International even brings all the data together in one wiki so you can browse and find the most recent information on a particular country like Liberia.)

Sometimes I think that all the solutions are there: we just need to open our eyes, minds and hearts to see them!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Transparent Apples

Apple Inc. has been in the news recently as, among other efforts to pressure the company on ensuring a “clean” supply chain, an internet petition for the company to ensure protection for its Chinese suppliers’ employees has been circulating. This is a great idea and one which I hope will be implemented (actually, Apple already seems to be doing quite a fair amount) but a lot of people seem to be missing some amazing and positive aspects of this story:

  1. Westerners (mostly American) are protesting working conditions in China, which, just a few years ago, was almost as opaque as North Korea. Now we are getting news on what’s going on and workers in China are even able to protest their own working conditions. With China’s drive towards economic power, and the West’s insatiable desire for cool gadgets, a nice side-effect seems to be improved working conditions in China.
  2. Because of the increasing interdependence of the global economy, consumers now have an interesting new source of political leverage. Although lots of people lament the flight of American manufacturing jobs overseas, this paradoxically seems to have given us more ability to influence a country’s treatment of its own citizens, even helping to stop child labor.
  3. We can actually trace the supply chain. This isn’t an easy thing to do. Supply chains, sometimes because of corrupt practices, but also due to incredibly complicated logistics (multiple vendors, countries, regions, transportation issues, thousands of humans involved, tracking mistakes) are not easy to track back. It’s a lot of work but with new technologies in supply chain management (and with the help I’m sure of some of those iProducts) this is now becoming possible.
  4. Apple’s step in releasing supply chain information is nothing short of world-shifting. If other companies follow this path, a level of transparency will exist in the global economy that is breathtaking to contemplate.

And it’s not just the technology industry that is being affected. (Although it does make some sense that, given that the technology industry is by definition on the cutting edge of technology, they would also be the first to implement new processes.) Blood diamonds, timber tracking, fair trade practices, all of these point to a global drive towards transparency which I am watching with a mixture of both awe at the speed this is taking place, and increasing hope that this heralds a better future for not just factory workers but for all of us across the planet.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC