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February 04 2014

Tajikistan Is “Besieged by Snow”

A massive snow storm has hit Tajikistan. Over the last three days, the country has been getting record-breaking amounts of snow, causing a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people. 

The authorities have closed schools, universities, and kindergartens throughout the country. Two major airports, in Kulob and Qurghonteppa, have been shut down. Many flights have been cancelled at the airports in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and Khujand. The snow has also left some parts of the country cut off from the rest. Avalanches have been reported across the mountainous nation.

Snow in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission,

Snow in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission.

The snow has also left Dushanbe “at the edge of a collapse” [ru]. The municipal authorities have been unable to remove snow from all but several main streets in the city. As a result, the public transportation system has all but stopped, leaving thousands of people unable to get to work or hospitals. Multiple car crashes have further paralyzed the city's roads. The snow has also caused frequent power cuts in the city where nine out of ten residents rely on electricity to heat their homes.

One blogger wrote [ru]:

Душанбе – в снежной осаде. Это красиво, даже в чем-то волшебно, но очень неудобно.
Шла сегодня с работы домой пешком. Около часа. Транспорта нет, да и ездить на том, что есть, опасно.

Dushanbe is besieged by snow. This is beautiful, even somewhat magical, but very inconvenient.
I had to walk home from work today. It took me about an hour. There is no [public] transportation, and whatever transportation is available is too dangerous to ride.

Municipal services in Dushanbe are short of special equipment and rely on street cleaners to remove snow from the city's roads.

Municipal services in Dushanbe are short of special equipment and rely on street cleaners to remove snow from the city's roads. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission.

On Facebook, a prominent Tajik journalist wrote [ru] (in a post that has got more than 120 likes and has been shared by users on various pages):

Думаю в какой же отсталой стране мы живем: 
снежный покров в 14-16 см великая проблема для городских служб; 
спецтехника, включая “Скорую помощь” ограничена в движении, следовательно десятки (если не сотни) людей не получать помощь; 
тысячи людей не добрались на работу, учебу…; 
общественное питание самоограничилась; 
мобильные операторы не обспечивают скорость Интернета; 
и что еще хуже: НИКТО и НИ ЗА ЧТО не отвечает! ((((

I think that we live in a very backward country:
- 14-16 centimeters of snow is a huge problem for municipal services;
- special services, including ambulance service, is limited in terms of the places they can reach; as a result, tens (or even hundreds) of people will not get the assistance they require;
- thousands of people have been unable to get to work or [schools and universities];
- [restaurants] have closed down;
- mobile service operators fail to ensure fast Internet service;
- and, what is worse, NOBODY is responsible FOR ANYTHING! (((

On social media sites, many Tajikistani users share pictures of snow-hit Dushanbe and wonder whether this winter is going to be as bad as the winter of 2008.

See more images and videos from snowy Dushanbe here and here

February 03 2014

Searching for Solutions to Open Defecation in Ghana

Open defecation is a huge health problem facing Ghana. Sixteen million people in Ghana use unsanitary or shared latrines, while 5.7 million have no latrines at all and defecate in the open. This has led to outbreak of diseases such as cholera when human excreta and urine pollutes water bodies. Open defecation costs the nation a whopping sum of 79 million dollars per year.

An article published by SpyGhana indicates that:

Although Ghana has chalked tremendous progress in some of the eight areas of the development goals including MDG 7, Target 7c, which is to: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation”, whereas it has already surpassed its target of 78% for water, the country has failed woefully in increasing access to improved sanitation.

Crawling at a snail’s pace of one percentage point increase each year, access to improved sanitation in Ghana is now at 15% according to the latest Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report released few days ago.

This means only 15 out of 100 Ghanaians now have access to improved sanitation, which is 39% short of Ghana’s sanitation MDG target of 54% that expires in 2015.

To further compound Ghana’s unenviable sanitation status, the open defecation rate in Ghana has now increased from 19 per hundred Ghanaians to 23 per 100, according to the MICS report.

But Clean Team Ghana is a sanitation company in Ghana that is working to change that by providing innovative and affordable in-house toilet facilities to urban communities. The YouTube video below shows how Clean Team is improving urban communities in Ghana by helping households have access to safe and clean toilet in their homes:

The company organised a Twitter debate on the 24 January 2014 to engage sanitation experts, government, social enterprises and the online community to deliberate on how open defecation can be eradicated in Ghana. The debate was organised using the hashtag #OpenDefecationGh.

In response to why people defecate in the open, Green Ghanaian (@GreenGhanaian) tweeted:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) commented:

Valeries Labi (@ValerieLabi) agreed:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) emphasised:

How can open defecation be eradicated in Ghana? Ghana Wash Project (@Gwashproject) suggested:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) argued:

   Edu Afrique (@EduAfrique) tweeted: 

Gameli Adzaho (@Gamelmag) pointed out that:

Asante Pious (@Asantep2005) noted:

Delali Kumapley (@DKumapley) remarked:

Valeries Labi (@ValerieLabi) wrote:

Francis Kumadoh (@Kumadorian) commented:

Replying to Francis Kumadoh (@Kumadorian) tweet, Ghana Wash Project (@Gwashproject) wrote:

MIT Environmental Engineering student J Knutson (@JKnoot) advised that:

Co-founder of Clean Team Andy Narracott (@AndyNarracott) wrote:

Nii Kwade (@Niikwade) emphasised the need for collaboration:

Grace Aba Ayensu (@Aba_Ayensu) complimented the effort of Clean Team:

Victoria Okoye (@Victoria_Okoye), media and communications expert, noted:

Peter Jones (@HCPeterJones), British High Commissioner to Ghana, tweeted:

Snow in Iran: 500,000 People Without Electricity, Gas and Water

Snow in Mazandaran. Source: Mehr. Photographer: Pejman Marzi.

Snow in Mazandaran. Source: Mehr News Agency. Photographer: Pejman Marzi.

500,000 people are reportedly trapped in villages without electricity, gas or water after a massive snow storm this weekend in Iran's northern provinces, Gilan and Mazandaran.

One local official called it the heaviest snowfall in 50 years. Thousands have been rescued and taken to emergency shelters or hospitalized.

ZA1-1RA tweeted:

I do not worry about my family, they have rice in reserve for months.

Farshad Faryabi tweeted:

Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Blidt, [who is on a trip in Iran] won't go back to Sweden now because there is more snow in Iran.

Soheila Sadegh tweeted:

A school was destroyed in Gilan under heavy snow.

Maysam Bizar tweeted:

The price for bottled water rose four times during snowing days. If we do not have pity for ourselves, what we do we expect of enemies?

Mozdeh A tweeted:

What is a blessing for others, is a curse for us.

Saham Borghani shared a photo last month (January 10) of tea and snow.

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

Will Orcas Be Put on Display at Sochi?

Orcas jumping

Two “transient” orcas near Alaska's eastern Aleutian Islands. Photo credit: Robert Pitman/NOAA (public domain)

This article and a radio report by Andrea Crossan for The World originally appeared on on January 31, 2014 and is republished as part of a content sharing agreement.

How do you hide something that weighs as much as six tons, is 20 feet long and requires hundreds of pounds of food every day?

That's the mystery researchers and conservationists are trying to solve, as they search for eight orca whales they believe were captured in Russian waters.

Rumors surfaced that two of the whales were going to be put on display at the 2014 Winter Olympics. And that ignited a firestorm.

An online petition, widely circulating on Twitter, demanded that the Russian company White Sphere not put the orcas in a dolphinarium in Sochi. At last count, the online petition had 400,000 signatures.

There were numerous reports that the Russian company had captured the orcas in the Sea of Okhotsk and that at least some of the whales were in holding pens near Vladivostok. The Russian Fisheries Agency didn't respond to questions regarding quotas for orca captured in Russian waters.

A male orca is seen near the Commander Islands in the Russian Far East.

“We have information from within Russia that two of them were shipped to China,” said Erich Hoyt, a research fellow with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “We have confirmation that two of them have gone to Moscow. However, none of these four [other] orcas are anywhere on display.”

But there's no proof that White Sphere has the whales — or has any plans to display them at Sochi. A spokesperson said the company doesn't “deal with the capture of wild animals or the transport of them.” The spokesperson said the company was aware of the online petition and expressed concern about the uproar.

It's believed the two Russian orcas that went to China will be displayed at a new Chinese theme park called Ocean Kingdom. Ocean Kingdom features the world's biggest aquarium and advertises a massive collection of sea life, including beluga whales and whale sharks. But it doesn't advertise having orcas on display. Ocean Kingdom wouldn't comment on whether it planned to display orcas.

There has been a strong backlash to marine parks keeping orcas in captivity. It may be, in part, due to the impact of the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish,” which examines the 2010 death of an orca trainer at SeaWorld. It also highlights the methods used to capture wild orcas.

“Definitely you can see that marine parks around the world are being much more covert about what they're doing with dolphins and orcas,” said Tim Zimmermann, associate producer and co-writer of “Blackfish.” “Ten years ago, I think you would have had [marine parks] advertising and proudly saying they would be displaying killer whales. But these days, it seems like a much more covert operation. We'll only know the killer whales are there when they suddenly appear in the pools.”

Andrea Crossan is a Boston-based senior producer for The World. She follows all things Canadian and has a dog the size of a small horse.

February 02 2014

Counter Attack Against Western Australian Shark Cull

Save Our Sharks

Save Our Sharks
Courtesy: SCUBASQUIRREL Facebook page

Protests took place on beaches around the nation on 1 February 2014 over the Western Australian government’s shark cull, which has followed seven fatal attacks during the last two years.

On the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research blog Conversations with AUSCCER, Leah Gibbs and Andrew Warren of the University of New England highlighted the local and international reactions to the shark cull. They argue:

But what exactly is he [Colin Barnett WA Premier] protecting Western Australians from? The cull strategy is based on no scientific evidence and no environmental assessment.

…Perhaps there are two good things coming out of this series of events. First, it has mobilised the community on an environmental issue – something we haven’t seen on such a large scale in Australia in some time. And second, it is slowly highlighting the use of related strategies in other states.

High profile social media responses included @rickygervaise and @richardbranson and Stephen Fry.

Omar Todd of the Sea Shepherd, best known for their concern for the welfare of another ocean creature, tweeted from a Cottesloe Beach rally.

Blogger Rossleigh Brisbane takes a swipe at the Federal government’s asylum seekers policy and Prime Minister Tony Abbott's recent attacks on the national broadcaster the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) with a double dose of satire: ABC Shows Bias In Their Reporting of Shark Cull!

Sharks are attempting to enter this country without a visa, so it’s clear that they’re illegal entrants.

… Once sharks come within a certain distance of shore, they’re in our territorial waters and that that gives us the right to do what we like to them.

Illustrator Ash Nathens is ‘a keen diver, kayaker, swimmer & proud sandgroper [a Westralian]‘.

This shark cull is a hopelessly ignorant task and a shamefully un-Australian endeavour. Stop playing Neptune, Mr. Barnett [WA Premier], and cease this stupidity.

Colin Neptune Barnett

Colin Neptune Barnett
Courtesy: Ash Nathens © 2014 scribblegraph PTY LTD

Clearly there are people supporting the cull. Craig McAllister was swimming against the twitter tide #sharkcull:

But not all shark attack survivors join him:

He's referring to Paul de Gelder:

Paul de Gelder - I'm a shark attack survivor and I don't support the cull

Paul de Gelder
Photo: Paul's blog – Improvise, Adapt & Overcome.

While there are a few mainstream media reports of support for the cull, there has been little noise on social media in recent days.

This oldie but a goodie from Animals1st sums up the online mood:

February 01 2014

Philippine Typhoon Haiyan Victims Join ‘People Surge’ Protest

'People Surge' protest gathering in a public university in Leyte. Photo from Tudla

‘People Surge’ protest gathering in a public university in Leyte. Photo from Tudla

Also see Haiyan Devastates the Philippines, our special coverage page.

More than 10,000 typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) victims in the Philippines joined a protest dubbed ‘People Surge’ to condemn the slow arrival of relief and rehabilitation efforts in their communities. The ‘People Surge’ is also an alliance of typhoon Haiyan victims mainly from the provinces of Leyte and Samar.

Haiyan, the world’s strongest storm of 2013, battered the Visayas islands of the Philippines last November 8 which killed more than 6,000 people. Thousands more were left homeless after a tsunami-like storm surge devastated several towns in the region.

Participants of the ‘People Surge’ are complaining about the lack of government assistance in restoring the homes and livelihoods of typhoon victims. They are also opposing the ‘No Build Zone’ policy which they claim will lead to the displacement of thousands of residents in coastal areas.

The ‘People Surge’ first assembled in a public university before marching around the city of Tacloban, the ground zero of the Haiyan disaster.

A Catholic nun, convenor of the People Surge, introduces the objectives of the action. Photo from Tudla

A Catholic nun, convenor of the People Surge, introduces the objectives of the action. Photo from Tudla

'People Surge' assembly in Tacloban. Photo from Tudla

‘People Surge’ assembly in Tacloban. Photo from Tudla

Residents hold improvised placards declaring their opposition to the 'No Build Zone' policy. Photo from Tudla

Residents hold improvised placards declaring their opposition to the ‘No Build Zone’ policy. Photo from Tudla

Residents, both young and old, are calling for the scrapping of the 'No Build Zone' policy. Photo from Tudla.

Residents, both young and old, are calling for the scrapping of the ‘No Build Zone’ policy. Photo from Tudla.

A typhoon victim voices out her concern to some aspects of the government's rehabilitation program. Photo from People Surge

A typhoon victim voices out her concern to some aspects of the government's rehabilitation program. Photo from People Surge

A participant of the rally calls for immediate rehabilitation of typhoon-affected villages instead of militarization. Photo from Tudla

A participant of the rally calls for immediate rehabilitation of typhoon-affected villages instead of militarization. Photo from Tudla

Protesters warn against land grabbing in favor of big business. Photo from Facebook of Elle Freem

Protesters warn against land grabbing in favor of big business. Photo from Facebook of Elle Freem

The event used the Twitter hashtag #PeopleSurge. Angel de Guzman† thinks the ‘People Surge’ was one of the biggest rallies in the region in recent years:

Leon Dulce, an environmentalist, explained why residents are against the ‘No Build Zone’ policy:

Compounding the survivors’ woes is the no-build zone policy that government imposed over the devastated coastal areas, which supposedly removed settlements away from the hazards presented by storm surges, but divorced the fisher folk and other coastal communities from shelter and livelihoods in the process.

Amando Doronila, a veteran journalist, warned the government not to undermine the anger of the poor victims:

After enduring for more than two months deprivations in food, shelter and medicines, more than 12,000 residents of Leyte and Samar converged on devastated Tacloban to express their indignation against the agonizing inaction of the national government, whose relief workers were still recovering decomposing corpses from the ruins at the rate of three a day, so the relatives of the dead can give the remains a decent burial. Under Filipino custom, nothing can be more sacrilegious and profane than leaving the dead unburied, especially by a negligent state

Elle Freem, a volunteer worker, observed how the organized campaign unfolded in Tacloban:

The Eastern Visayas region is probably the epitome if resilience, the people are ready to rise up in face of not only the material and psychological hardship of the super storm but also in face of an apathetic government who is profiteering on the aid pouring in. Tens of thousands of people made their way to the university of eastern visayas to voice their perspective on how to rehabilitate their homes and region. The communities here are organized and have a clear plan on how they want to proceed but will the government listen?

Also see Haiyan Devastates the Philippines, our special coverage page.

January 31 2014

Birds Avoiding Bhopal

Bhopal, the capital of the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, lies in the North-South corridor of the migratory path of birds coming from Northern Asia, Russia, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia etc. Blogger Proloy Bagchi reports that several species of migratory birds which used to congregate in and around the Bhojtal (former Upper Lake) in Bhopal in large numbers, apparently, have avoided this city this winter. Two reasons cited by bird-watchers for the absence of the birds are: 1) human disturbance and 2) pollution in the Lake waters.

How Brazilian Taxpayer Money Finances Construction Projects in the Amazon

Animation: BNDES in the Amazon

Animation: BNDES in the Amazon

This post, by Bruno Fonseca and Jessica Mota, was originally published in Portuguese as a part of Agência Pública's special coverage #BNDESnaAmazônia with the title Animation | How Our Money Finances Construction Works in the Amazon on December 9, 2013.

Nearly 44 percent of what Brazil's National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) finances is completely hidden. And more than half of what BNDES sends overseas is secret. This is how the bank deals with transparency, even though the money is public and comes from, for example, the Brazilian Treasury and the Ministry of Labor and Employment's Worker's Support Fund.

In 2012, BNDES loaned 156 billion Brazilian reais (64 billion US dollars) of this public money. It was in the search of what happened to this money over the course of three months that our team discovered the scope of investments in infrastructure in the Amazon where these public works are causing glaring social and environmental impacts.  See the primary discoveries in this animation [pt, es]:

On the Agência Pública website, the reports from the series #BNDESnaAmazônia (BNDES in the Amazon) are available for reading (all in Portuguese), including:

THE TRAIL OF BNDES IN THE AMAZON. A partnership between Agência Pública and the website Eco maps the increase of BNDES’ investments in infrastructure projects in the region. Public works financed by the bank are accused of concealing the impacts on the environment, the indigenous population, and workers.

BNDES IN THE AMAZON: 17 OF 20 MAJOR INVESTMENTS HAVE PUBLIC SUITS AGAINST THEM FROM BRAZIL'S PUBLIC MINISTRY. A survey by Agência Pública and the website Eco reveals problems with environmental impact studies, a lack of dialogue with the affected communities, and abuses against workers involved in the public works financed by the bank.

WORKERS HOSTAGE TO PUBLIC WORKS WORTH BILLIONS IN THE AMAZON. Deaths in Maranhão, workers forced by National Forces to stay at a work site at Belo Monte. Accused of violating worker's rights, mega enterprises receive funding from BNDES.

TWO REPORTERS ON THE TRAIL OF BILLIONS GIVEN BY BNDES. Over the course of three months, our team sought to uncover the trail of investments in infrastructure projects in the Amazon. The conclusion: 44 percent of what BNDES finances is completely obscured.

BNDES, FOR EXPORTATION. In the name of internationalization, BNDES funding for Brazilian enterprises overseas increased 1185 percent in ten years, according to a study by Ibase. Odebrecht is the leader.

THE BRAZILIAN PAN-AMAZON. Public works negotiated by BNDES in the South American Amazon include hydroelectric dams with cracks, pipelines with leaks, and a railroad that shook the presidency of Bolivia.

THE AMAZON THAT BNDES FINANCES. By the law of access to information, Pública obtained 43 contracts from BNDES with large national corporations for business ventures in the Amazon. Read and download these documents here.

The information collected also served as a base for the development of the interactive platform “BNDES na Amazônia“, a partnership between Pública and Eco:

Interactive Infograph: The 20 Major Projects Financed By BNDES in the Amazon. Screenshot from the site

Interactive Infographic: The 20 Major Projects Financed By BNDES in the Amazon. Screenshot from the site

The National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) is the primary financier of large projects in the Amazon. Utilizing funds from the Worker's Support Fund and contributions made by the Federal Treasury, the bank finances consortiums and businesses responsible for the construction of dams for the generation of hydroelectric power, power lines, thermoelectric projects and other projects with great environmental impact. This database, fruit of the labor of investigations made by a joint effort between the sites Eco and Agência Pública, concentrates information about funding given by BNDES in the Amazon and allows the user to become familiar with the profile of the companies receiving funding, the total invested resources in each project, as well as the ranking of investments since 2008. The data [available for download in CSV format] was put together from spreadsheets available on the site of BNDES and will be updated.

January 30 2014

Landfill Smoke Continues To Hold Trinidad's Capital Hostage

For the fourth consecutive day, residents, visitors and people who work in Trinidad & Tobago's capital city have had to endure the thick, black, ominous smoke which has enveloped the city.

Talk of the situation has dominated social media, with netizens quickly losing tolerance for the seemingly slow response by authorities:

  Others were more concerned by the potential health hazards of the thick smoke:

Many high school students chimed in on the issue with comments about the closure of schools throughout the capital city. Some were happy for the unplanned holiday:

Others were not impressed:

Government officials also took to social media to address the issue. Minister of Legal Affairs, Prakash Ramadhar tweeted:

Meanwhile, officials at the Environment Management Authority posted:

It remains to be seen what definitive action will be taken by the authorities.

You can monitor how the situation develops on Twitter by using the hashtag #Beetham.

The thumbnail image in this post is by Mark Franco, used with permission.

Japan's Taiji Fishermen Return to Infamous Cove for Annual Dolphin Hunt

Pasay, Philippines. 2nd September 2013 -- The systematic killings of dolphins and porpoises in Taiji, Japan prompted protesters from various animal rights group to hold a protest rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Pasay City. -- The annual killing in Taiji, Japan of dolphins and porpoises sparked a prayer protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Pasay City, south of Manila. Earth Island Institute lead the prayer rally together with PAWS and PETA. [Photo by J Gerard Seguia ©Demotix]

Pasay, Philippines. 2 September 2013 — The systematic killings of dolphins and porpoises in Taiji, Japan prompted protesters from various animal rights group to hold a protest rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Pasay City, south of Manila. Earth Island Institute lead the prayer rally together  [Photo by J Gerard Seguia ©Demotix]

Once again, fishermen from the small Japanese town of Taiji have made headlines over their annual dolphin hunt, during which hundreds of the creatures are captured in a local cove to be slaughtered or sold into captivity. 

According to conservation society Sea Shepherd, about 250 bottlenose dolphins were rounded up this year in a secluded cove now infamous as the location of the hunt following the release of the 2010 movie “The Cove“.

Taiji fishermen, who take part in the hunt with permits from the Japanese government, defend the practice as part of long-held tradition and count the support of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who defended them in a recent CNN interview. The captured dolphins are either slaughtered for food or sold to marine mammal parks for thousands of US dollars.

But environmental activists oppose the hunt as cruel. The animals are killed using spears, knives and other weapons, creating a bloody scene as they thrash about in the red-stained water and struggle to escape. The Oceanic Preservation Society claims that more than 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered in Japan every year during the hunting season from September to May.

Not everyone in Japan are as keen as the Taiji fishermen and Prime Minister Abe are to defend the tradition. Japanese conservationists held a protest rally on January 24, 2014 to raise awareness of what was happening in Taiji. Activist Noriko Ikeda of Action for Marine Mammals told Raw Story that, in fact, most Japanese don't know about dolphin hunting. “It is extremely rare to find Japanese people who eat dolphins. The real problem is that hunt is driven by demand for live dolphins among aquariums to put on dolphin shows,” she said.

Japanese artist Yoko Ono, the widow of the Beatles’ singer John Lennon, wrote an open letter this year addressed to the fishermen of Taiji, pleading, “The way you are insisting on a big celebration of killing so many Dolphins and kidnapping some of them to sell to the zoos and restaurants at this very politically sensitive time, will make the children of the world hate the Japanese.”

The US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, even jumped into the fray:

Some people in Japan considered the comment by Kennedy as meddling in the country's affairs. Observing such reactions, technology blogger Satoshi Nakajima wrote [ja]:


There are people making a fuss about Caroline Kennedy's comment against Japan's dolphin fishing as “interference in domestic affairs”, but to understand where her comment comes from, we need to understand what whaling and dolphin fishing mean to Americans, and what such practices represent. [...] If most Japanese consider such practices as a barbaric act and if we wish the ocean to have whales and dolphins swimming freely around the world, we should ban whaling and dolphin fishing altogether. It would have been a different story if there were many Japanese who hope that whales and dolphins to be served on plates, however those days are gone. I think rather than giving in to external pressure, it's time for the Japanese to make our own decision to “stop more dolphin fishing and whaling because it barbaric”.

Twitter user Takao Setaka took a look at both sides of the argument:

I never wish to eat dolphins and whales, however, I don't think it's necessary for the state to ban fishing when there is a portion of local people who traditionally practice it as part of their lifestyle. Although, I also do not think that it's necessary to continue to fish just because it's a tradition.

Reading the post, another blogger, good2nd, argued that treating the topic as a cultural issue does not advance the discussion:

It's wrong to label a culture as cruel, but at the same time, you can't say, “It's not cruel because it's culture”, either. Even as people insist on culture, we eat less and less. 

Dolphin meat is considered a delicacy in some regions, but the culinary luxury can come at a high cost. Taiji's coast, where the dolphins are found, is reported to contain high levels of mercury, and residents in Taiji had mercury levels which were 10 times higher than the national average, according to a study conducted by the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and Daiichi University's College of Pharmaceutical Studies. Mercury levels of 50 ppm in the human body can cause nerve damage.

Dolphins, unlike whales, do not fall under the protection of the International Whaling Convention. Recently, India's Central Zoo Authority banned dolphin captivity in the country, stating that they are “highly intelligent and sensitive” by nature and ought to be seen as “non-human persons.” This is because dolphins and whales are self-aware, demonstrate individuality and are highly intelligent. Dolphins are even known to recognize themselves in mirrors, and are certainly aware that they and those around them are being massacred.

The post was edited by L. Finch and Keiko Tanaka

January 29 2014

Trinidad & Tobago: Smoke in the City

The work week in Trinidad began on a dark note – literally. On Monday January 27, the atmosphere was thick with haze, the sky a sombre grey as people commuted to work and parents dropped their children off to school. At first, many couldn't pinpoint the cause – wasn't it too early in the year to be experiencing the effects of Saharan dust? – but soon, news spread that the source of the smog was coming from the La Basse, the capital's main landfill site, located next to one of the most disadvantaged communities in the country.

As usual, Facebook was the go-to site for information; users posted updates and thoughts as information came in. It is suspected that several fires were started in the waste dump, allegedly by Beetham residents, in protest over the shooting of a resident by police the day before. As the smog grew thicker, some schools in the area were closed, but officials from the Environmental Management Authority and the Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company, which oversees the dump, have been working with the fire services to get the situation under control.

A mid-morning rainfall on Monday improved the situation slightly, but as of earlier today, firemen were still trying to contain two lingering fires that were blazing underneath mounds of rubbish. Several early morning Facebook status updates spoke to the situation. Catherine Emmanuel quipped:

Mmm…landfill smoke with my morning tea. Yes please.

Gareth Jenkins added:

This city stinks. Kids shouldn't have to go to school in a shroud of burning garbage.

Photographs soon followed. Facebook user Iain Waller uploaded a pic of Port of Spain taken from the highway that passes in front of the dump and accompanied it with this sardonic question:



C News Live posted a photo set that showed the effects of the heavy smoke in the capital:


Mark Franco posted a photo taken from a balcony on the outskirts of town, noting that “Port of Spain [was] shrouded again”:


There was also a lot of discussion on Twitter. Kerwyn Forde noted:

@CNC3TV posted regular updates:

Kalifa Sarah Clyne observed:

@triniqt2 complained:

@PLatchman felt sorry for the children who are being affected:

In typical Trinidadian style, @KetchAVapse used humour to deal with the situation:

If the smog persists for much longer, chances are that netizens will be less inclined to joke about it.

Ecuador's Indigenous People: “We believe in development that respects Mother Earth”

“The Government is appropriating our spiritual values of the Amazon region, it’s seeking to deconceptualize our cultural concepts”, says [Carlos Pérez, President of ECUARUNARI (Confederation of Kichwa Peoples of Ecuador)]. “It doesn’t know what Pachamama is. It doesn’t understand the rights of nature. It doesn’t understand Sumak Kawsay (good living), it doesn’t understand the right to water.”

In Intercontinental Cry journalist Robin Llewellyn writes about repression and indigenous rights under President Rafael Correa.

January 28 2014

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: Trip to the Dying Aral Sea

The Aral Sea lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was once one of the world's four largest lakes. Over the last five decades, however, the sea has lost over 90 percent of its original size, mainly as a result of disastrous irrigation projects which diverted rivers feeding it. On the Caravanistan travel blog, Aziz Murtazaev presents a photo report about his recent trip to the “dying sea”. A more detailed report by the blogger, in Russian, can be accessed here and here.

Qaraqalpaqstan, the ‘Forgotten Stan’ of Central Asia

Qaraqalpaqstan (or Karakalpakstan) is one of the least-known “stans” of Central Asia. Part of Uzbekistan, this region is a true gem for a curious traveler. On the Caravanistan blog, Steven writes about this “forgotten stan”:

…Living under the shadow cast by the desiccation of the Aral Sea, this little-known stan has gotten a bad rep and has drawn mostly disaster tourism in recent years.

Tourists with an open eye, an extra day to loiter and the imagination to appreciate the weight of history, the power of landscape and the nomadic traditions of a desert nation however, will find Karakalpakstan a fascinating place…

Most surprising is the long history of the region. Places like the UNESCO World heritage desert castles of Toprak Qala, Ayaz Qala, Koy-Kirilgan Qala, Big Guldursun, Pil Qala, Anka Qala, Kurgashin Qala and Djanbas Qala Mizdakhan give an inkling of a once-blooming society, the powerful state of Khorezm that guarded part of the ancient Silk Road. These are places few foreigners get to see, and they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of archaeological treasures strewn around in the desert…

January 27 2014

Malaysia: The Most Beautiful Sound in the World

The winner of the ‘most beautiful sound in the world’ competition is ‘Dusk by the Frog Pond’ by ‘Wild Ambience’ recorded in a Sarawak swamp in Borneo, Malaysia.

What Does Climate Change Mean to You? Documentary Competition

Young filmmakers from all over the world are invited to produce and submit a 1-12 minute video documentary telling a story about climate change. What the #Action4Climate video challenge wants to know is:

How is climate change impacting your community? What are you doing about it? What needs to be done to solve the climate challenge?

The deadline is April 1, 2014. To learn more about eligibility, prizes and the jury, visit the competition's webpage at and watch the short video below: 

Updates are being shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Jamaicans Deserve Details About Proposed Logistics Hub

You are being manipulated. Jamaicans are effectively begging and paying their government for vital information about their country. How can we accept this?

Talk of developing an environmentally protected area of Jamaica as a major logistics hub has Cucumber Juice up in arms, as she says key information is not being provided to the public.

January 26 2014

Outdoor Air pollution in Bhopal

Proloy Bagchi reports that outdoor air pollution in Bhopal, the capital of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, has risen to an alarming proportion mainly from the emission of the transports. The blogger slams at the inaction of the state government and stresses the importance of reducing this pollution. According to WHO outdoor pollution causes cancer, more so than passive smoking.

January 25 2014

Saving Elephants in Laos

Photo from Facebook page of Elephant Conservation Center

Photo from Facebook page of Elephant Conservation Center

Laos was once called the ‘land of a million elephants’ but today elephant population has been reduced to several hundreds because of poaching and illegal ivory trade. Some are dying because of overwork in logging areas.

It is estimated that wild elephants number around 300 to 600:

Scattered in small fragmented herds, population numbers of wild elephants are believed to be around 300-600. Like many other countries, wild elephants in Laos are threatened by problems caused by humans. This includes deforestation, poaching, expansion of human settlement and human-elephant conflict.

Meanwhile, there are around 420 captive elephants:

Sadly captive elephant populations are in decline. Only an approximate 420 remain in Laos. The new millennium has bought with it the burden of financial gain, with mahouts (elephant owner) having to work their elephants seven days a week to earn a living. Elephants are mainly employed in the logging industry, a very hard and dangerous job. Male elephants are too tired and busy to reproduce and can even die from logging accidents.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness about the need to protect the elephants in the country. One of the groups spearheading this advocacy is the Elephant Conservation Center:

Elephant Conservation Center differentiates itself from elephant tourist camps by being a haven for elephant reproduction, lactation, convalescence and disease diagnosis. Do NOT expect to see package tours riding these elephants all day long!

It is also the first elephant hospital in Laos as well as serving as an ecotourism camp. It provides technical and livelihood assistance to elephant owners or mahout who depend on the elephants for their daily income.

The center is also a sanctuary for rescued elephants. They were able to rescue a young elephant which they named Noy. After a few years, the elephant will pick his new name through a process described by head veterinarian Emmanuelle Chave:

At three years old, elephants are trained by their future mahout, to respond different cues, in order to work with humans. A shaman organizes this important journey, where the elephant leaves the forest world for the human world. At the end of the training, the young elephant is offered three sugarcanes, on which are written names. The name on the first sugarcane he picks up will be his.

Brita visited the center and recognized its role in protecting the welfare of elephants:

The Elephant Conservation Center is probably one of the few places you can visit where it’s not about elephants adapting to people’s schedules and needs but where people adapt to the rhythm and needs of the elephants

I am very picky when it comes to choosing an Elephant “place” as there are far too many all over the world which treat their elephants badly and which just means moving from one horrible life (=logging) to another (= bad treatment for tourism purposes).

jo ebisujima also visited the center and learned that putting chairs on the back of an elephant is painful for the animal:

One of the important things that were learnt was that the chairs that are used for carry people and luggage on an elephants back (hawdah) really isn't good for them. This is due to the shape of the bones…It is more comfortable for the elephant to be ridden without any kind of saddle and sat on their neck.

January 24 2014

Chikungunya on the Rise in the Caribbean

Chikungunya, a mosquito borne illness that causes fever and severe joint pain, has been spreading throughout several Caribbean territories since late last month.

Officials on the island of St. Martin, have begun vector control measures to reduce the population of the aedes aegypti mosquito, which is primarily responsible for the spread of the virus; regional netizens have been using Twitter to give updates:

Cases have also been reported on the Dutch side of the island:

Other territories are also taking precautions as cases of the virus have been reported in several other islands:

American Science Professor and blogger Jeff Stratford predicted that it is only a matter of time until cases of the virus appear in the United States:

Why do I think Chukungunya is coming to the US? The virus is carried by mosquitoes are are ubiquitous throughout the Americas. All the virus needs to get a foothold in the US is for an infected individual (say a tourist) to bring the virus back to the Americas while the virus is circulating in their bloodstream. Then an “American” mosquito can bite the infected person, pick up the virus, and the cycle starts anew. 

Since 2005, cases of the virus has been reported in over 40 countries worldwide. You can keep track of the regional spread of the disease via Twitter, under the hashtags #chikungunya #caribbean.

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