WWF sees “severe risk” in Arctic oil exploration

PARIS (Reuters) – The World Wildlife Fund is urging governments in the Arctic to suspend all oil exploration due to “severe risks” of spills or blowouts until a comprehensive plan to deal with disasters is in place, a senior official said.

Bill Eichbaum, a WWF vice-president, said extreme weather, icy conditions, lack of regulation and the absence of a coordinated plan of action between nations could lead to a crisis even worse than in the Gulf of Mexico.

“What we’re seeing in the Arctic is the beginning of a major new industrial activity with variable standards from country to country and the potential for an accident,” he told Reuters Television at the Global Oceans Conference in Paris.

BP Plc is struggling to stop oil gushing unchecked from a ruptured undersea well in Louisiana at an estimated rate of 5,000 barrels a day, threatening shipping, wildlife, beaches and one of the most fertile U.S. fishing grounds.

Eichbaum, who is vice-president of the WWF’s Arctic policy, said the events in the Gulf of Mexico had made it even more important to suspend the licenses in the Arctic.

“One thinks exploration is simple, but you don’t know what those pressures are … you can have a guess, but when you go in it’s unknown,” he said. “We think the risk is so severe, there should be a stop to further exploration.”

Canada, Russia, Norway, the United States and Denmark, the only nations with Arctic coastlines, are racing to file territorial claims over oil, gas and precious metal reserves that could become more accessible as the Arctic ice cap shrinks.

“This (Gulf) accident was in a place where every resource was available to respond, but that’s not the case in the Arctic,” said Eichbaum. “The conditions there are severe and we in the environmental community are concerned that oil and gas exploration not be allowed there until there is an understanding of how to respond.”

Oil majors such as BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron are investing millions of dollars to lease tracts of Canada’s Beaufort Sea, north of the Northwest Territories.

In the United States, Royal Dutch Shell spent $2.1 billion on Chukchi Sea leases in 2008, and ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. oil company, paid $506 million for its Chukchi leases the same year.

U.S. President Barack Obama gave the nod in March for companies with licenses awarded under the previous Bush administration to pursue exploration in the Arctic, although it stopped new licenses until more scientific research is done.

By John Irish and Noemie Olive From Reuters India

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UNICEF: Indian girls fight back against child marriage

KOLKATA, India, Nov 19 (Reuters Life!) – Fourteen-year-old Ahalya Kumar lives on a single daily meal of starched rice and has never been to the movies, but the girl from a dirt-poor Indian village packed enough power to reject her arranged marriage in June.

One of four children in a family that earns a pittance rolling bidis, or cheap handrolled Indian cigarettes, her elder sister was married off young and forced to bear children before she turned 18, the legal Indian marrying age.

But when it was Ahalya’s turn, she said “no” after hearing about a 13-year-old girl from the same area who had shot to national fame by stopping her marriage.

“I want to be educated first and live healthy. Marriage can wait until I am 19,” she said.

In Oldih village of Purulia, one of the poorest areas in the eastern state of West Bengal, about 300 km (190 miles) from the bright lights of the state capital Kolkata, Ahalya had to fight poverty and parental pressure to stand up for herself.

But times are slowly changing. The government supported by aid agencies is setting up schools for child labourers to make them aware of their rights to break a rife but outlawed custom.

“Girls are gradually saying ‘no’ to child marriage,” said Anil Gulati, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which works with authorities to fight child marriage.

Gulati said girls have become bolder by encouraging each other and getting media publicity for their refusal.

“This has a slowly growing momentum which will take some time, but it will have a lot of value.”

Impoverished families often use early marriage to get rid of the financial burden of a daughter, and the law can be slow to react. Ahalya’s father, Nimai, repented his decision.

“I was making a mistake. I now want my daughter to study further and then get married when she attains the right age.”

MESSENGERS OF CHANGE

Ahalya’s inspiration was a girl called Rekha Kalindi. Though Kalindi still lives in a mud hut in Purulia, she became a celebrity when she resisted early wedlock and was congratulated on her courage by India’s president.

“The president was very happy to know that these girls are revolting and she encouraged them a lot,” said Prosenjit Kundu, a government official working with girls in Purulia who accompanied them to the meeting in India’s capital.

“She said these girls are messengers of change.”

Kalindi chose not to be one of the many child brides in India’s 1.1 billion-plus population destined for early wedlock.

Though the numbers are falling, India’s latest nationwide health survey said nearly half of women aged 20-24 years were married before they turned 18 and more than a fifth wed before they turned 16. Some 3 percent married before they turned 13.

Parents sometimes use force to make their girls marry, and early motherhood can also prove fatal.

“In some cases, when the girls revolted the parents stopped giving food to the girls,” Kundu said. “These girls don’t have enough to eat and are all child labourers. But their strength to resist child marriage amazes us.”

SORRY FIGURES

Child brides often do not use contraceptives, and face high fertility rates, unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

Some join the roughly 78,000 Indian mothers who, according to a 2009 UNICEF report, die every year in childbirth and from pregnancy complications.

The high mortality rate, which lags far behind India’s Millenium Development Goals and rival China, is another sign of how often rural women have been excluded from a recent economic boom that lifted millions of others out of poverty.

One state where child marriage is widespread and socially acceptable is Rajasthan, whose desert safaris and ornate palaces make it a magnet for foreign tourists.

But village women workers have long fought against the practice, braving violent resistance and even rape to do so.

“Only recently the child marriage of a girl called Babloo was stopped in Jodhpur region by these village social workers after her parents were convinced,” said Anuradha Maharishi, a UNICEF official working in the state.

Babloo could signal a gradual trend, as across India early marriages are slowly in decline. The same government survey said 44.5 percent of women aged 20-24 married before the legal age in 2005-6, down from 54.2 percent in 1992-93.

“I think there’ll be a positive reaction,” Kundu said about Indian society’s view of girls fighting back.

“If the girls in other districts know girls from their age and their poor backgrounds are saying ‘no’ to marriage, they will also come out and speak their minds.”

From Reuters

Unicef-UN: Vaccines, hygiene could stop diarrhea deaths

LONDON – Diarrhea causes one in five child deaths across the world but getting important vaccines to Africa and Asia could help save many lives, two U.N. agencies said on Wednesday.

Some 1.5 million children die each year from diarrhea, — more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined — yet only 39 percent of children with diarrhea in developing countries get the right treatment, the World Health Organization and the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF said in a report.

Vaccinations against rotavirus, the leading cause of severe gastroenteritis with vomiting and diarrhea in babies and children, as well as better sanitation and proper rehydration treatment would help solve the problem, they said.

Vaccines, hygiene could stop diarrhea deaths: U.N - Reuters

Vaccines, hygiene could stop diarrhea deaths: U.N - Reuters

Rotavirus causes around 40 percent of hospital admissions from diarrhea in children under five worldwide, according to the report, and vaccination against it has recently been recommended for all national immunization programs.

Only a few, mostly developed and richer nations include rotavirus vaccine in routine childhood immunization programs, but the WHO has been working to make two vaccines — Rotateq from Merck & Co and Rotarix from GlaxoSmithKline — more widely available in developing countries.

“Accelerating its introduction in Africa and Asia, where the rotavirus burden is greatest, needs to become an international priority,” said the report.

It also said two mainstays of diarrhea treatment — zinc supplements and low-osmolarity oral rehydration salts — are still hard to come by in many poorer countries.

“We know what works to reduce child deaths from diarrhea and what actions will make a lasting reduction in the burden of diarrhea,” Tessa Wardlaw of UNICEF and Elizabeth Mason of the WHO said in a commentary in The Lancet medical journal.

“We need to make the prevention and treatment of diarrhea everybody’s business, from families and communities to government leaders to the global community.”

More than 80 percent of child deaths due to diarrhea occur in Africa and South Asia and just 15 countries account for almost three quarters of all deaths from diarrhea among children under five each year. India has the highest number of annual deaths at 386,600.

The report set an action plan to try prevent more childhood deaths from diarrhea. It stressed that simple steps like encouraging hand washing, promoting breastfeeding for small babies, and discouraging open defecation were crucial.

“Nearly one in four people in developing countries practice open defecation,” the authors said. “And despite some recent progress, only 37 percent of infants in developing countries are exclusively breastfed for the first six months.”

An estimated 88 per cent of diarrheal deaths worldwide are due to unsafe water and poor sanitation or hygiene, they added.

By Kate Kelland – Reuters

Unicef: One-third of world’s child brides from India – Reuters

MUMBAI, Oct 6 (Reuters) – More than a third of the world’s child brides are from India, leaving children at an increased risk of exploitation despite the Asian giant’s growing modernity and economic wealth, according to a UNICEF report.

Nearly 25 million women in India were married in the year 2007 by the age of 18, said the report released on Tuesday, which noted that children in India, Nepal and Pakistan may be engaged or even married before they turned 10. Millions of children are also being forced to work in harmful conditions, or face violence and abuse at home and outside, suffering physical and psychological harm with wide-reaching, and sometimes irreparable effects, the report said.

“A society cannot thrive if its youngest members are forced into early marriage, abused as sex workers or denied their basic rights,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.

Despite rising literacy levels and a ban on child marriage, tradition and religious practices are keeping the custom alive in India, as well as in Nepal and Pakistan, the report said.

More than half the world’s child brides are in south Asia, which also accounts for more than half the unregistered births, leaving children beyond the reach and protection of state services and unable to attend school or access basic healthcare.

Only 6 percent of all births in Afghanistan and 10 percent in Bangladesh were registered from 2000-08, the report said, compared to 41 percent in India and 73 percent in the tiny Maldives.

Also, about 44 million, or 13 percent of all children in south Asia, are engaged in labour, with more than half in India.

Children in the region have also been seriously affected by insurgency and instability, as well as natural disasters.

Especially in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, past or ongoing conflicts have broken down most child protection systems, leaving children especially vulnerable, the report said.

Trafficking of children for labour, prostitution or domestic services is widespread, especially within Bangladesh and India, and within the region, as well as to Europe and the Middle East.

“Insufficient emphasis has been placed on protecting child victims of trafficking and ensuring that any judicial proceedings brought against them are child sensitive,” the report noted.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran; Editing by Alistair Scrutton) – Reuters

Reuters: 4 degrees warming “likely” without CO2 cuts-study

* Global temperatures could rise 4 degrees by 2050s

* Rainfall may fall by a fifth in many regions

LONDON, Sept 28 (Reuters) – Global temperatures may be 4 degrees Celsius hotter by the mid-2050s if current greenhouse gas emissions trends continue, said a study published on Monday.

The study, by Britain’s Met Office Hadley Centre, echoed a U.N. report last week which found that climate changes were outpacing worst-case scenarios forecast in 2007 by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [ID:nN24360533]

“Our results are showing similar patterns (to the IPCC) but also show the possibility that more extreme changes can happen,” said Debbie Hemming, co-author of the research published at the start of a climate change conference at Oxford University.

Leaders of the main greenhouse gas-emitting countries recognised in July a scientific view that temperatures should not exceed 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, to avoid more dangerous changes to the world’s climate. [ID:nL6368126]

The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its fourth assessment report, or AR4. One finding was that global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees by the end of the 2050s. Monday’s study confirmed that warming could happen even earlier, by the mid-2050s, and suggested more extreme local effects.

“It’s affirming the AR4 results and also confirming that it is likely,” Hemming told Reuters, referring to 4 degrees warming, assuming no extra global action to cut emissions in the next decade.

One advance since 2007 was to model the effect of “carbon cycles”. For example, if parts of the Amazon rainforest died as a result of drought, that would expose soil which would then release carbon from formerly shaded organic matter.

“That amplifies the amount of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere and therefore the global warming. It’s really leading to more certainty,” said Hemming.

DRASTIC

Some 190 countries will try to reach an agreement on how to slow global warming at a meeting in Copenhagen in December.

Chinese President Hu Jintao won praise for making a commitment to limit emissions growth by a “notable” amount, at a U.N. climate summit in New York last week. Other leaders made pledges to agree a new climate pact. [ID:nSP98073]

Temperature rises are compared with pre-industrial levels. The world warmed 0.7 degrees last century, scientists say.

A global average increase of 4 degrees masked higher regional increases, including more than 15 degrees warmer temperatures in parts of the Arctic, and up to 10 degrees higher in western and southern Africa, Monday’s study found.

“It’s quite extreme. I don’t think it’s hit home to people,” said Hemming. As sea ice melts, the region will reflect less sunlight, which may help trigger runaway effects.

Such higher Arctic temperatures could also melt permafrost, which until now has trapped the powerful greenhouse gas methane, helping trigger further runaway effects, said Hemming.

“There are potentially quite big negative implications.”

The study indicated rainfall may fall this century by a fifth or more in part of Africa, Central America, the Mediterranean, and coastal Australia, “potentially more extreme” than the IPCC’s findings in 2007.

“The Mediterranean is a very consistent signal of significant drying in nearly all the model runs,” said Hemming. A 20 percent or more fall is “quite a lot in areas like Spain already struggling with rainfall reductions in recent years.”

By Gerard Wynn – Reuters

Reuters: Global warming could worsen Australia, India droughts

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Global warming may have spawned a new type of El Nino in the central Pacific and this could worsen the droughts in Australia and India, a new study by researchers in South Korea and the United States has found. 

While the conventional El Nino is a warm body of water stretching across the tropical Eastern Pacific, this new El Nino is a horseshoe-shaped region of warm ocean in the central Pacific flanked by unusually cooler waters, they wrote in a paper published in the latest issue of Nature.

“This new type of El Nino appeared in the recent decade and from our analysis, it may be due to global warming,” lead researcher Sang-Wook Yeh of the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute told Reuters by telephone.

Yeh and his colleagues applied Pacific Ocean sea surface temperature data from the past 150 years to 11 global warming models developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Eight of them showed global warming conditions will increase the incidence of the new El Nino.

“The results described in this paper indicate that the global impacts of El Nino may significantly change as the climate warms,” said Yeh.

“This type of El Nino will bring more drought to India and Australia.”

Ben Kirtman, co-author of the study and professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami’s Rosentstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said the new El Nino may overshadow the old El Nino, which helped shield the United States and Caribbean from severe hurricanes.

This means the protective shield of the old El Nino may be on the wane.

“Currently, we are in the middle of a developing eastern Pacific El Nino event, which is part of why we’re experiencing such a mild hurricane season in the Atlantic,” said Kirtman in a statement.

Kirtman expects the current El Nino event to end next spring, which he expects may bode for a more intense Atlantic hurricane season in 2010.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Jerry Norton) © Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Reuters – NewDelhi – UNICEF – Child deaths fall, but “grossly insufficient”

LONDON (Reuters) – Childhood deaths have declined across the world, data released on Thursday showed, but mortality is increasingly concentrated in poor countries.

A study by the United Nation’s children’s fund (UNICEF) showed that thanks to better prevention methods for malaria and action to reduce mother-to-child AIDS virus transmission, some 8.8 million children under five died in 2008 compared with 12.5 million in 1990.

But 99 percent of child deaths occurred in poor countries.

The United Nations millennium development goal 4 (MDG 4) calls for a two-thirds reduction in the mortality rate among children under the age of five years between 1990 and 2015.

To be on track to meet that figure, child mortality rate would need to reach 4.4 percent average annual rate of reduction, way above the 1.8 percent achieved so far.

“The rate of decline in under-5 mortality is still grossly insufficient to obtain the MDG goal by 2015 particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” said Danzhen You at UNICEF in New York in a commentary in The Lancet medical journal.

“It is alarming that among the 67 countries with high mortality rates (40 per 1,000 or more), only 10 are on track to meet MDG 4. These findings call for a more concerted effort to accelerate progress,” You and fellow authors wrote.

Sub-Saharan Africa now accounts for half of the 8.8 million under-5 deaths worldwide in 2008, while South Asia has the next highest rate of mortality in children with 32 percent.

The authors said, however, that since the data generally reflected mortality over the preceding three to five years, some major improvements including vaccination programmes, work to combat the AIDS virus and more insecticide-treated mosquito net for malaria might not be fully reflected in the numbers.
“There is evidence therefore to believe that the acceleration in child survival might already be well under way,” the UNICEF commentators wrote.

There was urgent need, they added, for the global health community to refocus on pneumonia and diarrhoea as two of the three most important causes of under-five mortality.

“New tools, such as vaccines against pneumococcal pneumonia and rotaviral diarrhoea, might provide much needed momentum and an entry point for the revitalisation of comprehensive programming against these two diseases.”

By Kate Kelland © Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved