Monthly Archives: May 2012

The (Very Large) Elephant in the Room

I mentioned in my first post on the topic of health that ideally, instead of measuring world health by rates of infant mortality, this would eventually decline so much that we could switch to a metric based on a country’s physical fitness, a function linked more to prosperity. Well, with infant mortality rates dropping, I seem to have gotten my wish, a lot sooner than I thought, but maybe not in the best way. (Always, always, be careful what you wish for!)

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released, for the first time, global figures for all 194 member countries of the UN on the percentage of men and women with high blood pressure, and with raised blood sugar levels, a symptom of diabetes. What the figures clearly showed is the spread of chronic diseases such as heart disease from developed nations to poorer regions, as lifestyles and diets change. Even if you are aware of the problem in the U.S. (Amazingly, a lot of people are not — read this if you are not convinced!) you will probably be a bit shocked at the speed at which obesity and all its related diseases (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc…) is literally spreading across the globe.

Some highlights from this article from Reuters:

  • One in three adults worldwide has raised blood pressure and the condition affects almost half the adult population in some countries in Africa;
  • One in 10 adults worldwide has diabetes, an illness that costs billions of dollars to treat and puts sufferers at risk of heart disease, kidney failure and blindness; up to a third of the population in some Pacific Island countries have the condition;
  • Rates of obesity have doubled in every region of the world between 1980 and 2008; and half a billion people – or 12 percent of the world’s population – are considered obese.

The medical community is working hard to address this epidemic. (Yes, it’s an epidemic. Ironically, people worry far more about the next super-virus or terrorist attack than the thing that is killing more of us than ever before and is right in front of our faces, stacked high on a plate.) However, although the idea of a “magic pill” is appealing, what the doctors are actually saying, screaming, yelling as loud as they can, is that there’s really only one way out: better diet and exercise.

The obesity/diabetes/heart disease epidemic is actually a challenge to our essential human nature: eat as much as you can and everything will be okay. We need to overcome that and it’s not easy.

But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Actually, there’s one really easy thing you can do today, right now: just walk! Just take a few extra steps. That’s all. If lots of people took those few extra steps, added up, we might have a shot at beating this. Let’s give ourselves that chance!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. There are about a zillion ways to make exercising more fun — even more so with the advent of smart phone apps — so I won’t go into all of them here except to say that if I started with Fitocracy a few months ago and, though I’m just a newbie, I am finding that getting “awards” and “medals” for my slowly increasing fitness achievements, puts a smile on my face every day and makes it a little more fun! There are also a lot of very knowledgeable people on the forum for all sorts of questions and support.

PPS. I should also note that I work with Diabetes In Control, an online medical newsletter and website geared towards clinicians with the goal of keeping them current on the latest medical news related to diabetes.

Sudan’s Water Key

“So often times it happens, that we live our lives in chains,
And we never even know we have the key….” — “Already Gone,” The Eagles

This lyric sums up the recent revelation of massive and very deep water aquifers discovered under the northern part of Africa. (Huge’ water resource exists under Africa.) Specifically, the biggest source is under north-eastern Chad, throughout much of eastern and southern Libya, and under some areas of Darfur. (There is also a significant source under Mauritania and Western Sahara.)

In other words, droughts that the western Sudanese have been suffering through for years (only 57% of the population has access to improved water sources – CIA World Factbook), could have been largely mitigated by tapping into this resource. If the Khartoum government, instead of attacking, pillaging and raping both the land and the people, had invested in both people and sustainable land use, we could today be seeing a much greener vision of that area of the world. Instead, corruption, greed and extremism have prevailed, and we have a decimated landscape as well as population.

Darfur has fallen off the front page recently as the focus (as well as Sudan’s military) has shifted to the border with South Sudan, amid the north’s sudden frantic realization that the South has decided to take its petroleum toys and go play with other nicer, regional playmates, leaving Sudan without a significant source of previously reliable revenue.

But the problems in Darfur still persist. What can be done? The United Nations and African Union have some forces there, and some aid agencies have made progress, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to do. To truly effect change in the region will require a major political shift in those who control the country and that still seems a long ways off with President Omar al-Bashir firmly in charge despite the international pressures to alter that situation.

One organization that has been consistently working to raise awareness is Aid Still Required. They have been consistent in getting the word out about conditions in that inaccessible area. They also have a program, not yet launched, which could potentially help the people of Darfur tap into this vast water resource right under their feet. It’s called The Village Reforestation & Advancement Initiative (VRAI).

We’re unfortunately pretty far away from even beginning to implement such projects and there will be many, many projects of this type needed. But I will hold on to the hope that, like the untapped and powerful resource of this underground water,  the resource of empowered people in Darfur will eventually be released to rebuild their region and their lives.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. If you want to see an excellent documentary of exactly what has happened there (with footage the journalist and ex-Marine risked his life to get), watch The Devil Came on Horseback. You can see an excerpt here on Youtube: The Devil Came on Horseback excerpt. (Warning: includes some very graphic and disturbing stuff.)

Self-reliance and Sustainable Change to End Hunger

I’ve watched this new video from The Hunger Project Australia several times now and am just so impressed each time about how clearly and concisely the basic principles of self-reliance, empowerment, and vision are explained. In 5 minutes, Dr. Badiul Majumdar, Country Director of THP Bangladesh, and the THP-Australia group, mostly business people, encapsulate the basics of how we really can end hunger, not just in Bangladesh, but world-wide.

I will be going to a presentation by Dr. Majumdar in June — please let me know if you are going too!

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC

An Abundance of Energy

I’m going to start linking my posts to Facebook from now on — not sure yet about the rest of the social mob! (I’ve been keeping this blog under wraps as I try to figure out where it’s going as well as get it into decent enough shape, so apologies to those of you who didn’t know about it!) I will also be donating $5 to every non-profit I highlight in my posts the day I post, and linking to the Causes app in Facebook. (I anticipate that some of them will be featured multiple times so this will be ongoing.) Please feel free to join in if you want and not if you don’t! This is just one way I thought I might make a tiny bit of a dent in moving our planet closer to 100%!

Sometimes I wonder if in all of our panic to avert global warming by coming up with alternative energy sources, that we haven’t inadvertently invented so much that we will actually have an over-supply of energy in the not-too-distant future.

I know it sounds crazy but: solar energy farms are popping up in deserts from north Africa to the Mojave to the Atacama high desert in Chile; wind power is going gangbusters in the U.K. (especially Scotland which is currently getting 35% of its electricity needs through alternatives including wind), in Texas, and in China; hydro-power is also on the upswing with lots of new dams planned, albeit with quite a bit of controversy surrounding them — Chile wants to build a huge dam across some of its rivers; China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan are all arguing about how to manage both the water and energy resources of the great rivers that wind down from the massive mountain ranges in Central Asia; and in Africa, a proposal for a huge dam in Ethiopia is on the agenda (which will also affect neighboring Kenya); and methane, biofuels, biomass plants, wave and tidal energy, geothermal, all are moving forward.

And all of this isn’t even taking into account the constantly accelerating pace of technological development in energy science. Batteries (able to store wind energy) are becoming likelier by the minute; harnessing the simple difference of electric potential between seawater and freshwater may soon become a reality; and there are too many others to put them all down here. Beyond all that, many energy efficiencies are being implemented (particularly in lighting, where there are huge amounts of waste to that are being rapidly eliminated with new LED bulbs.)

Alternative energy is also swiftly becoming an integral part of development in rural areas of the world, leap-frogging older power technologies altogether in some cases. Some examples of this include The Hunger Project‘s epicenter programs in Africa: in Senegal at the Namarei epicenter where solar panels are providing power for patient care; in Mozambique at the Zuza epicenter to pump water and provide light; and at Iganga Epicenter in Uganda (in partnership with AHEAD).

Yes, we will probably still need oil, gas, and nuclear for a while. But I am not really sure any more how much longer that will be the case!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC