Published: Friday 15 August 2008

Jaipur halts limestone mining

The Rajasthan government has denotified the region in and around Jaisalmer for limestone mining. Though the reason behind denotification is not clear, the move comes days after the government rejected applications by leading cement companies for mining lease in the region. Companies such as Mangalam Cement, Sanghi Industries, Birla Cement and Indorama Cement had applied for mining licences in the state between 2005 and 2007. Rajasthan has a reserve of over 7,634 million tonnes of cement grade limestone. The state has identified 890 million tonnes of probable reserves and notified a few mining blocks as suitable for cement manufacturers.

climate change
Down to Earth Glacier thaws in winter

In what is seen as a sign of global warming, parts of Argentina's Perito Moreno glacier broke off in the second week of June. This is the first time large chunks of ice have broken off the famous glacier park, known as the White Giant, during the southern hemisphere winter. Over 200 glaciers in the park shed ice roughly every four years in annual summer cycles.

locust control
No food for work

People in northwestern Afghanistan are furious with authorities for failing to give them wheat that was promised in return for dead locusts. After locusts swarmed into the region in early April, authorities promised to give 7 kgs of wheat for each kg of dead locusts. Within 15 days, Afghanistan's National Disaster Management Authority received over 9,680 kgs of dead locusts. People were given receipts but are yet to receive the wheat. Authorities concede that the anti-locust drive had helped eradicate the seasonal pest quickly and effectively, but they have no wheat to disburse. Meanwhile, the Afghan government and the un have launched a joint appeal for us $404 million to provide an emergency safety-net to 4.5 million Afghans who are in "high-risk" food-insecurity.

China gets legal ivory

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (cites) has approved a one-off sale of ivory to China. The decision allows China to import 108 tonnes of ivory from four African countries--Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The shipment involves ivory collected from elephant culls in overpopulated areas, natural deaths and seizures. Since a ban in 1989, Japan has been the only country approved to buy government-owned ivory from Africa. Conservationists are not happy with the decision and say it would boost the ivory demand in China and act as a smokescreen for moving illegal ivory into the legal market.

Penguins wash up dead

Over 400 baby penguins from the icy shores of Antarctica and Patagonia are washing up dead on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro over the past two months. Coast guards say though large numbers of penguins arrive on Rio de Janeiro's beaches every year swept by strong ocean currents from the Strait of Magellan, this year their numbers are unusually higher. Experts are divided over possible causes. Coast guards believe overfishing has forced the penguins to swim further from shore to find fish to eat and that leaves them more vulnerable to strong ocean currents. Veterinarians at the Niteroi Zoo, which received over 100 penguins, many drenched in petroleum, however, blame it on the pollution caused by the Campos oil field offshore. Biologists from Rio de Janeiro's Federal University suggest global warming, which affects ocean currents, making seas rougher for baby penguins.

oil reserve
Russia barges into Arctic

Down to Earth Russia has resumed warship patrols around the Arctic Ocean archipelago of Svalbard. The move is to control fishing rights in the disputed waters, says the navy. Under a 1920 treaty, Svalbard was placed under Norwegian sovereignty. In 1977, Norway established a 300 km fisheries zone around Svalbard. But Russia does not recognize it and says it has fishing rights up to the coast. International experts see the move as Russia's growing clout to stake claim to the mineral wealth of the Arctic by expanding the reach of its military. Russia is in the race with Canada, Denmark, Norway and the us to control the vast mineral reserves of the Arctic that are becoming accessible with global warming.

traditional crops
Kenya looks back

Amidst rising food prices and shortage fears, Kenya is promoting traditional food crops in the country. "These crops are known to perform well in dry areas where food insecurity is a common feature due to inadequate rainfall," says the agriculture minister, William Ruto. Their production, however, have declined due to lack of planting material and changing food habits, he said. The ministry has partnered with various seed companies and agricultural research institutes to provide farmers with seeds for traditional crops.

climate change
CCS gains momentum

The Netherlands has said that it would invest us $95 million by the end of the year to fund carbon capture and storage (ccs) projects in the country. Earlier it had pledged us $ 47 million towards the projects. The move, it says, will help the country meet its emissions reduction goals by 2025. Uptil now, ccs technology has not been tested commercially with critics being vocal about how unsafe it is. But industrialized countries are in a rush. At the recent g8 summit, the leaders backed the launching of 20 large-scale ccs projects across the world by 2010. The uk plans to build power plants with carbon capture facilities, while Norway says that it has secured the go-ahead from the eu to pump more state funds into experimental ccs projects. In the second week of July, the oil-rich Canadian province of Alberta announced more funds, us $2.04 billion, for ccs projects. To join the rush, the us has unveiled plans for geosequestration of co2 and is mooting regulations, particularly to safeguard underground water supplies from possible contamination.

waste management
Naples gets 'civilised'

Down to Earth Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on July 18 claimed he has "civilised" Naples by ending its long-running rubbish crisis, after the police seized mafia-controlled landfill sites around Naples and arrested 17 suspects. They have been charged with criminal association with the mafia, illegal waste-trafficking and environmental damage.

Down to Earth
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At a cabinet meeting, Berlusconi promised installation of new incinerators, opening new dumps and shipping trash to Germany and to other regions of Italy to solve the crisis. Naples and its surrounding region have been placed under a state of emergency for the past 14 years due to its pile-up rubbish. The problem was blamed on lack of incinerators and landfill sites being controlled by the local mafia, the Camorra, who used some of the sites for illegal dumping of toxic waste.

water management
Murray-Darling drying fast

The Australian government is buying back 35 billion litres of water from Murray-Darling Basin residents to save the river system. It is the first time the federal government is directly purchsing water for the basin. The move is part of the government's us $6.2 billion Water for the Future plan. The announcement came a day after the Murray-Darling Basin Commission released a report saying that drought in the area is getting worse with just 95 gigalitres flowing into the system in June. To restore the balance the basin needs at least 680 gigalitres of water.

US gears up for next-gen

The National Governors Association of the us has teamed up with the automaker General Motors to expand the nationwide infrastructure for E85 ethanol (a mixture of 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol). The goal is to have a distribution network ready when the next-generation ethanol, made from non-grain sources, becomes available. The automaker has already set up 300 E85 pumps in 15 states over the last three years. There are about 170,000 petrol stations in the us. More of E85 pumps will allow owners of flex-fuel vehicles to choose between regular petrol and E85.

Deal to cut drug price

Four Indian and two Chinese pharmaceutical companies have agreed to cut the price of a common malaria drug by 30 per cent and lower the price volatility of artemisinin--the key raw material for artemisinin-based combination therapy (act)--by 70 per cent. The price of artemisinin has fluctuated by over 700 per cent due to a rapid but uneven increase in demand, said the Clinton Foundation which roped in the pharma companies for the agreement. The deal, it says, will allow lower prices of the drugs in 69 countries benefiting over 500 million people. The companies are India's Cipla, ipca Laboratories, Calyx and Mangalam Drugs, and China's Holleypharm and pidi Standard.

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