News 360° - Briefs

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Over 100 quakes in 2 yrs

A 7.1-quake hit China’s western state of Qinghai on April 14, killing more than 1,500 people and destroying the Yushu county near the Tibet Autonomous Region. Difficult terrain of the region, 4,000 metres above sea level, made rescue efforts slow. The quake, followed by 300 aftershocks, also damaged a dam on the upper reaches of Yangtze river, endangering people living downstream. China has often been criticized for building large dams in seismically sensitive areas. Hours after the quake, China Earthquake Networks Centre sent out a warning that the country has entered a relatively active seismic period.


The level of strong earthquakes in recent years is higher than a century ago, said the officials. In 2008, the region experienced 99 quakes of over 6.0 magnitude, including the one in Sichuan province that killed over 90,000 people.

mediterranean water management
Semantics stalls water talks

A row over how to describe Israel-occupied Palestinian territories thwarted a 43-nation talk aimed to adopt strategies for managing freshwater in the Mediterranean region. At the conference, the Mediterranean Union—the group of 27 EU nations, North African countries, the Balkans, the Arab world and Israel—came close to an agreement, but failed to seal it when Israel disapproved of using the term “occupied territories” to describe regions like West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. European participants coined an alternative term, “territories under occupation”, but the Arab nations opposed it. The stalemate is seen as a blow to the nascent Mediterranean Union that was set up in 2008 to foster cooperation in the region. Water is a major cause of tension in Palestine as Israel controls most water resources.

public health
Insurers fund fast food

Just weeks after the US government passed the healthcare bill that would increase the number of Americans covered by private health insurers, Harvard Medical School researchers reported that most life and health insurance companies are major investors in fast-food industry. As of June 2009, the resear-chers said, 11 insurance giants of usa, Canada and Europe owned stocks worth about US $2 billion in five fast-food companies, including McDonald’s and Burger King. There is a potential disconnect between the mission of insurance companies and the often unhealthy food churned out by fast-food chains, the report said. The researchers urged insurance companies to sell their stocks or use their influence as shareholders to make fast food healthier.

land colonization
Cambodians decry govt policy

Thousands of Cambodian farmers blocked roads to oppose what they termed as land grab by foreign business firms in connivance with the government. The farmers from Kandal province alleged the government has leased their land to developers without consulting them. The protest is the latest in a series of flare-ups over land disputes in Cambodia, where less than 10 per cent people have land deeds. In the past few years Phnom Penh has leased large tracts of land—up to 100,000 hectares—to companies from China, South Korea, Vietnam and Australia to develop agro-industrial plantations like rubber and sugar. The government says the move is to improve its nascent economy. To avoid protests, the government recently passed a law that allows it to expropriate land for the projects. Analysts say the move worsens the problem of landlessness in the country.


amazon rainforest
Lula dams protests

The Brazilian government awarded a contract to build the world’s third largest hydel project in the Amazon rainforest in a chaotic auction and amid criticism that the dam would be catastrophic for the environment. President Lula da Silva promoted the project despite opposition from green groups, Amazon’s tribal communities and the Attorney General’s Office (ago), which had moved court saying the government violated environmental norms in approving the dam. Acting on ago’s report, the court had stayed the bidding thrice. This includes an order suspending the bidding just minutes before the auction result was to be announced. But each time the federal court overturned the decision.

A consortium led by state electricity company Eletrobras will build and operate the 11,200 MW project, scheduled to go online in 2015. Green groups say the project on Xingu river in Para state would submerge 50,000 ha of rainforest and displace 40,000 tribals living along the river.

Drought, flood, now locusts

Swarms of locusts have attacked eastern Australia. The Plague Locust Commiss-ion said the insects have damaged 50 million ha farmland across four states, wiping out early sown wheat and barley. They have also destroyed pastures and gardens, the commission said. Though farmers are spraying chemicals to contain the pests, the commission fears the outbreak could be devastating because the region got heavy rainfall recently after a decade-long drought. Humidity with high soil temperature creates a conducive atmosphere for the quick-breeding insect. Officials have warned farmers to brace for another breakout as eggs laid by these locusts would hatch in September. A few cafes have worked out how to tackle the pest: they are offering locusts as a new pizza topping.

nuclear security summit
A chain reaction follows

US President Barack Obama hosted a summit on nuclear security on April 12-13 in Washington. Leaders from 46 countries attended the summit and agreed to protect all nuclear materials within four years to stop the possibility of nuclear terrorism. Several countries, including Ukraine, Mexico and Canada declared their intention to give up production of highly enriched uranium. Russia and the US signed a deal to dispose 68 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium and use it as fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. The reactors would be commissioned after eight years.

Iran was not invited to the summit because of its controversial nuclear enrichment programme. Tehran retaliated by convening a conference in Tehran called Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None on April 19. Representatives from 60 countries, barring the US, attended the meet.

oil sands
BP faces shareholders’ wrath

British Petroleum, or BP, faced a rebellion from its shareholders over its controversial oil sands project in Canada at the annual general meeting. The oil giant defeated the resolution as only 15 per cent of shareholders opposed investment in oil sands project. To dampen growing investor anger, BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward publicly pledged not to use open-pit mining, which causes large-scale deforestation and displacement and pollutes water resources. Non-profit Greenpeace said the pledge offers no relief as in-situ drilling technique releases much more greenhouse gas emissions than the conventional crude oil extraction.

Bolivia’s Coca Colla

Bolivia is producing a fizzy beverage made from coca leaves, called Coca Colla. The drink named after the indigenous Colla people from Bolivia’s highlands is black, sweet and is priced at US $1.50 per half-a-litre. The drink has the support of President Evo Morales, a former coca grower, who plans to promote coca as a crop with legitimate uses. Coca leaf is the ingredient of cocaine, but has traditional and medicinal uses. Tea or soup made from fresh coca leaves help ward off altitude sickness, fatigue and hunger. If the drink gains popularity, Morales plans to expand the land under legal coca farms from 12,000 to 20,000 ha. Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of coca.

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