Published: Saturday 31 January 2004

A protocol to control heavy metals in Europe entered into force on December 29, 2003. The un Economic Commission of Europe's Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution is designed to regulate anthropogenic emissions of heavy metals, known to have long-term effects on human health.

The instrument has been singed by 35 nations plus the eu and ratified by 19. The parties to the protocol will meet for the first time in December 2004. They are expected to turn the searchlight on three heavy metals -- cadmium, lead and mercury.

South Africa has drawn up an emergency programme to help farmers and rural poor cope with a drought threatening to cripple production of key crops such as corn and sugar cane. The breadbasket of southern Africa is in the grip of its worst drought for more than 80 years.

Severe winters in the West, especially the us, pushed up international crude oil prices above us $30 a barrel mid-December 2003 onwards. Experts suggest the diminishing prospect of increased supplies from Iraq, still mired in violence, could ensure the crude oil market will rule high for some more time to come.

The price rise impacted India immediately. Petrol and diesel prices were hiked up by Rs 1 January 1, 2004 onwards, a second such hike within a fortnight.

Six people died and another 165 were reported to be in a serious condition as cholera swept through Zambia's capital, Lusaka mid-December 2003 onwards. Transmitted through contaminated water and food, cholera typically occurs in Zambia during the rainy season.

Denmark's economic affairs minister Bendt Bendtson has shot off an "exceptionally sharp letter" to Russian transport minister Sergey Frank. It asks Russia to stop plying single-hulled tankers carrying crude oil through Danish coastal waters. Denmark is alarmed at loopholes in stringent regulation the International maritime Organisation passed two weeks ago on phasing out such tankers, but allows them to be used as "shuttle service", a clause that the Russians seem to be using.

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