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U.N. Officials Fear 'Water Wars' in Developing Nations Facing Global Warming Challenges

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 6 (UPI) — U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said the Middle East is “in a challenging situation” and would need stability to achieve development, emphasizing the need to fight climate change to help avoid the next major conflict in the embattled region: “Water War.”

“Instability does affect (development). This is clear: Where you have instability, you cannot make development. But when there is no development, that’s also a fertile ground for instability,” Migiro said Tuesday during an interview with United Press International at the end of a visit to Beirut where she met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

She stressed the need for “increasing stability and addressing issues of governance,” saying that the key factor was to maximize the resources of the region, while bearing in mind that “without stability, you cannot move forward.”

“The region is in a challenging situation especially in security and peace-related issues. But it is not impossible to get out of this situation … Actually, we see critical steps (being taken) toward stability,” Migiro said.

She underlined progress in Iraq but cautioned that “the challenges are still huge but not insurmountable.”

Migiro explained that the United Nations’ present efforts were concentrated on addressing security and peace-related issues as well as issues of development.

She warned that water availability in the embattled Middle East region was already affected by climate change.

“Projections are that by the year 2050, water accessibility for human consumption will have dropped by 40 percent. So this is critical, scary,” she said. “Probably the next major conflict will be about water.”

She, however, emphasized that “war is not an option and we are confident that as we are looking into the question of climate change, we will pay enough attention to water access and availability.”

Migiro explained that the U.N. Environment Program, U.N. Development Program and other agencies were closely working with countries in the region to address the question of climate change and water availability “because we do want to avoid the situation where the next conflict arises over water.”

Creating awareness in the Middle East concerning climate change is a key issue but the major focus remains on the Millennium Development Goals, which were developed at the Millennium Summit in September 2000 and include eight international development goals that 192 U.N. member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. The aim is to reduce extreme poverty and child mortality rates, fight disease epidemics such as AIDS, and develop global partnership for development.

Migiro said the MDG implementation in the region has seen some gains but “a lot more needs to be done.”

“There has been progress in this region in particular. We have seen increased enrollment of children, plans to empower women. We are still hopeful,” she said.

She also described as “a noticeable progress” a decrease in extreme poverty in the Middle East, saying “the number of those living in extreme poverty actually dropped between 1981-2005.”

In Egypt, she said, “poverty line has really dropped. We had very few people who were below the poverty line in 2005 … nearly 2 percent.”

Careful but hopeful, she added, “We have not reached a satisfied level but we want to build on the successes.”

Indeed, the climate change, the economic and financial crisis, the fuel crisis have all affected MDG plans.

Despite the United Nation’s inability to help solve long-lasting crises, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, Migiro said she remains confident that the international organization maintains “a positive image” in the Middle East.

“In times, there are difficulties technically but by large we think we are enjoying enormous support not only from the leadership but the people, too,” she said, referring to the various U.N. organizations operating in the region.

“We are really confident that in the few years to come and once the situation gets better in terms of peace and security, we will see huge steps toward development and therefore sustainable stability in the region,” she said.

On repeated calls to reform the United Nations and the growing frustration of the blunt dominance of the United States and other big powers over the international organization, Migiro explained that in recent years member states began to request “more democratization of the United Nations,” targeting specifically the Security Council and its veto power.

She, however, explained that the “U.N. is going through reforms at the operational level,” referring to a new process under way for a better coordination among various U.N. organizations.

She said the new system was meant “to put our acts together in terms of programs, resources and housing” that would help achieve a better performance and save costs.

For example, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reorganized the Department of Peacekeeping Operations whereby a field support unit was created to support the activities of more than 100,000 peacekeeping troops deployed in various areas of conflicts in the world.

“We are in a hurry to implement the new system … there are certain strengths in the work we are doing now and which will have to materialize by 2011 or so,” she said, noting that the United Nations launched a pilot program in eight countries whereby all U.N. agencies operating in those countries were gathered in one location with one common program and one budget.

Migiro, who in 2006 became the first woman in Tanzania to be named minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, took office as U.N. deputy secretary-general in February 2007.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Drug Cartels Using Indian Reservation Land for Marijuana Farms

WARM SPRINGS, Ore., Nov. 6 (UPI) — Drug cartels are increasingly using Indian lands across the United States to cultivate marijuana, authorities say.

Illegal marijuana farms, mostly operated by gangs with ties to Mexico, are spreading quickly, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The U.S. Forest Service found farms in 61 national forests across 16 states this year — up from 49 farms in 10 states last year, the newspaper said.

Pot farms have sprung up on public land in Alabama, Virginia, Michigan and Colorado, officials said.

In Washington state, tribal police confiscated more than 233,000 pot plants on Indian land last year, almost 10 times as much as in 2006. Police are discovering marijuana farms on reservations from California to South Dakota.

“These criminal organizations are growing in Indian country at an alarming rate. The growers on our reservation were sent directly from Mexico,” Warm Springs, Ore., Police Chief Carmen Smith said.

Police are looking for Artemio Corona, said to be the mastermind behind several big Oregon marijuana plantations. He is suspected of growing marijuana on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon, and is allegedly the boss of five suspects who have pleaded guilty to federal drug-trafficking charges, the Journal said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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German Coal Country Reinvents Itself with Renewable Energy and Eco-Tourism

GROSSRAESCHEN, Germany, Oct. 23 (UPI) — An eastern German region devastated by decades of strip mining is trying to reinvent itself with renewables and a new form of eco-tourism.

Meet Gerold Schellstede. The German entrepreneur has taken $6 million of his money to turn a run-down 19th century villa in Grossraeschen in Brandenburg into a 4-star “Lake Hotel.”

The problem? There is no lake. At least not yet.

Schellstede’s hotel sits at the edge of a giant decommissioned strip mine that is currently flooded into a 2,000-acre lake. By 2015, when the water has finally filled the lake, the barrel-chested entrepreneur hopes for droves of guests to dive into water where once was only dead land.

“I believe in that lake and I believe in this region,” Schellstede, who is currently building another guesthouse right at the shore, told United Press International in an interview Thursday.

The Lausitz region, near the border with Poland, once was a major energy hub.

It has yielded more than 2 billion tons of brown coal since mining started here in the late 19th century. Most of the large-scale mining started after World War II, with East Germany’s communist regime trying to feed the economy’s growing energy hunger with domestic brown coal.

But this came at a price. In the 1980s, the Communist regime decided to enlarge the existing strip mine near Schellstede’s hotel. East Germany’s Communist leadership expropriated and resettled more than 4,000 people to carve the coal from the ground. An entire village simply vanished. The East German brown coal industry, producing some 300 million tons per year, devastated roughly 470 square miles of land.

“The values that were mined away were never given back to the people,” said Thomas Zenker, the mayor of Grossraeschen. “It was a city filled with fears of loss.”

With Germany’s reunification in 1990, virtually all mines were closed down. People left for western Germany to look for jobs or stayed behind to live off unemployment aid.

This has been changing recently. Yes, unemployment still towers at 18 percent here — roughly double the German average.

But the German government has tried to improve the outlook of the region. Since 1990, Berlin has spent roughly $12.8 billion trying to undo the damage from East Germany’s strip mining and unleash a structural transition, also in the energy sector.

Today, some 40 percent of the electricity consumed in Brandenburg comes from renewable sources, and thanks to lucrative state subsidies, numerous top-notch wind, solar, biomass and biofuel companies have settled here. The state is home to state-of-the-art solar plants from industry giants Conergy and U.S.-based First Solar, with several other PV companies and research organizations located in the Berlin-Brandenburg region.

The renewable energy sector employs more than 5,000 people in Brandenburg, a state with 2.5 million citizens.

The city of Lauchhammer, also in Lausitz, lost nearly 12,000 jobs linked to coal. Today it is home to a highly efficient wind turbine plant from Danish giant Vestas. It’s also using a decommissioned strip mine to plant an energy forest that would be “harvested” for further use in a combined heat and power plant.

But most of the remaining mines, around 20, will be flooded — to create Europe’s largest system of artificial lakes officials here hope will attract tourists from all over Germany.

Zenker, the mayor of Grossraeschen, even pushed for a landing bridge to be installed at the shore of the imaginary lake.

The city had the bridge built out of a 220-foot nose of an old bucket wheel that was intended to go to the junk yard. It now reaches into the lake bed, linking the mine’s industrial past to its (hopefully) bright new tourist future.

“When we first had the idea to create ‘Lausitz Lake Country’ people thought we were crazy,” Zenker said. “More and more people now believe in our vision.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Art, Coal, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Organizations, Other, People, Solar, Wind0 Comments

Swine Flu Found in Minnesota State Fair Pig

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI) — The H1N1 virus was present at the pig barn during this year’s Minnesota State Fair, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says.

The USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the pandemic virus, also called swine flu, was detected in a pig sample collected at the fair, which ran for 11 days ending on Labor Day in St. Paul, Minn.,Vilsack said in a statement Monday.

“We have fully engaged our trading partners to remind them that several international organizations, including the World Organization for Animal Health, have advised that there is no scientific basis to restrict trade in pork and pork products,” said Vilsack. “People cannot get this flu from eating pork or pork products. Pork is safe to eat.”

Vilsack said the samples collected at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair were part of a University of Iowa and University of Minnesota cooperative agreement research project funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which documents influenza viruses where humans and pigs interact at such as fairs.

USDA officials said the infection of the fair pig does not suggest infection of commercial herds because show pigs and commercially raised pigs are in separate segments of the swine industry.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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CAS & WWF: Arctic Set to Become Open Sea Within a Decade as Climate Warms & Ice Decreases

LONDON, Oct. 15 (UPI) — The Arctic is set to become an open sea within a decade because of massive ice loss, new data released Thursday by the Catlin Arctic Survey and World Wildlife Fund indicates.

The survey, based in London but linked to explorers and researchers worldwide, produced evidence at a news conference the Arctic Ocean sea ice is thinning, “supporting the emerging thinking that the ocean will be largely ice-free during summer within a decade.”

The survey was conducted during winter and spring this year by a team of British experts in collaboration with the world’s pre-eminent scientific organizations.

The scientists explained the survey undertook to resolve “one of the most important environmental questions of our time: How long will the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice cover remain a permanent feature of our planet?”

The endeavor was led by polar explorer Pen Hadow and included explorer Ann Daniels and photographer Martin Hartley.

Scientists are still analyzing collected data at the Polar Oceans Physics Group, University of Cambridge, and are expected to produce their evidence at the climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

But initial results already suggest that the sea ice is newer and thinner — and therefore more liable to melt — than expected.

The team trekked across the floating Arctic sea ice for 73 days, beginning on March 1, 2009.

Efforts to capture data on the thickness of the sea ice included manual drilling at regular intervals along the route and observations of morphological features, such as pressure ridges, rubble fields and open leads of water.

Six thousand separate pieces of data were generated and analysed by the Polar Ocean Physics Group.

The Catlin Arctic Survey is the latest study of Arctic sea ice thickness to become available for both scientists and government leaders who will attend the Copenhagen summit.

The survey found the entire traverse across the northern margins of the Beaufort Sea was characterized by first-year ice — significant because the region traditionally contained older, thicker multiyear ice.

“This is a key discovery because it means this area of ice is now more likely not to survive the summer melts in future and will become open water each year, bringing forward the likely date when the summer sea ice will be completely gone,” said a survey report.

It said the survey aimed to help scientists determine “with a higher degree of certainty the likely time-frame for seasonal sea ice loss.”

The study supports a new consensus among sea ice researchers that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer in about 20 years, with much of the decrease happening in the next 10 years.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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15 Year Study of DNA in 1,527 Southern Humpback Whales Completed

NEW YORK, Oct. 14 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say an international genetic study of 1,527 Southern Hemisphere humpback whales has been completed.

The goal of the 15-year project was to gather genetic data to explore the population dynamics and relatedness of Southern Hemisphere humpbacks and inform management decision in the sometimes politically charged realm of whale conservation, officials said.

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History and an international coalition of organizations conducted the research in the Southern Atlantic and Indian oceans.

“Humpback whales are perhaps the most studied species of great whale in the Northern Hemisphere, but many of the interactions among Southern Hemisphere populations are still poorly understood,” said Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program and lead author of the study. “This research illustrates the vast potential of genetic analyses to uncover the mysteries of how humpbacks travel and form populations in the southern ocean basins.”

So little is known about southern ocean basin humpbacks that researchers initially used old whaling records for insights into whale population boundaries. The DNA was obtained from skin samples gathered with biopsy darts fired from crossbows, officials said. The darts harmlessly bounce off the marine mammals as they surface to breathe.

The results of the massive analysis that included scientists from the U.S., Oman, Brazil, South Africa, Gabon and France appear in the online journal PLoS One.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Findings Show How Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Cuts Can Work

NEW YORK, Oct. 8 (UPI) — New findings by two U.S.-based research organizations show global greenhouse gas emissions, widely seen behind current climate change, can be reduced to meet targets set for 2020 if world communities set their mind to concerted policy change and action.

The U.N. Foundation, a public charity, and the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan research institute, unveiled an analysis of what they see as the core elements of the fight to combat climate change.

In a joint presentation UNF President Timothy E. Wirth and CAP President John D. Podesta said 75 percent of the emission cuts needed to be in place by 2020 could be achieved through energy efficiencies, greater uses of renewable energy, conservation of depleting forests and a more sensible and sustainable use of land.

The measures could offer up net savings of $14 billion, they said.

The findings were released amid mixed messages from the preliminary round of U.N. climate talks in Thailand before the scheduled climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Global improvements in energy efficiency are currently estimated to be growing at a rate of 1.25 percent, said the study.

If the rate is pushed up to 2 percent by 2015 that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent below the rate likely to be prevailing in 2020. That reduction would represent a net saving of $98 billion by 2020, the study said.

Likewise, if electricity generated through renewable sources is increased to the point where it represents a fifth of the world’s total electricity production in 2020 that would mean a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by that year.

The findings also calculate that halving the rate of tropical deforestation at the same time as improving land use can lead to a 50 percent cut in emissions by 2020. The study recommends more sustainable forestry and land management and greater attention to how and where livestock is raised.

The report calls for introducing programs of national adaptation in the least developed and vulnerable developing countries to better prepare populations for a more sustainable approach to use of resources.

“A new international agreement is urgently needed to address climate change,” said Wirth. “It must include emission reduction targets by developed countries, nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries, financial assistance to developing countries, and technology cooperation.”

He said the core elements of a new agreement should include areas where all countries, both developed and developing, can take immediate action to reduce emissions. He said such action would also help economic growth, energy security and public health.

Wirth said the findings showed how “very substantial progress can be made toward the emissions cuts we need over the next 10 years at very low cost — in fact, with a net benefit to the global economy overall.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Wild Horses Crowding Western States Would Move East Under Plan

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (UPI) — Wild horses crowding the West would head to the Midwest and the East under a plan unveiled by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Some 37,000 of the animals roam in the range and another 32,000 are in enclosed pastures or corrals in 10 Western states, The (Portland) Oregonian reported Wednesday.

“We must consider siting these preserves in areas outside of Western States because water and forage are extremely limited in the West and drought and wildfire threaten both rangeland and animal health,” Salazar said.

Salazar and Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey want the BLM to own and operate two new preserves and partner with private organizations to form five more. The seven preserves would hold 25,000 horses.

Although the two public preserves would cost about $92 million, Salazar said they would save the taxpayers money in the long run and help the horses. The plan needs congressional approval.

His plan also includes sterilization and management of sex ratios on the range to limit births.

The BLM tries to find people to adopt horses, but the recession has slowed adoptions.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Russian President Wants to Turn Russia into Energy Efficiency Champion

MOSCOW, Oct. 5 (UPI) — President Dmitry Medvedev wants to turn Russia into an energy efficiency champion.

How do Russians regulate their heating system in the winter? Well, they simply open their windows. That may sound like a joke to you, but it really isn’t — Russians are notorious for wasting power. And why should they bother? Gas and electricity prices are too low to do so. One of the world’s biggest energy powers, Russia hasn’t exactly cultivated an atmosphere of resource conservation.

Medvedev wants this to change.

In a speech last week Medvedev said he wants to increase his country’s energy efficiency by 40 percent.

“Russia can resolve this task even by means of existing technologies and close this gap,” Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted him as saying before a crowd at the Kurtshakovskij Institute, the lab that several decades ago helped make the nuclear bomb for the Soviet Union.

Medvedev promised that talking days are over; he said that the Russian Duma would consider an energy efficiency law that should come into effect by Jan. 1, 2010.

“The situation with Russia’s energy efficiency is depressing,” Medvedev said, according to Itar-Tass. “Russia’s energy intensity, the ratio of energy to GDP, exceeds that of industrialized countries many-fold, while heat losses are higher than 50 percent.”

Medvedev has vowed to modernize the Russian industry, which is old an energy-inefficient. Russian companies consume four times more energy than their Western competitors. Nearly half of the gas Russia produces is wasted because of aging machinery and pipelines.

Moreover, the country’s state-subsidized low prices for heating and electricity fail to prompt people to save energy in their daily lives. The president seems to be aware of that problem.

“We don’t know how to save. … We are very tough, we are very big and very rich. We don’t even turn off the light all the time,” he added. “So this means a revolution in the minds too.”

Medvedev said the Kremlin will set an example regarding energy efficiency.

“When promoting the energy saving policy, the state should begin with itself, with state-owned organizations,” he said, adding that saving energy would save people money.

Earlier this year Russia and Germany joined forces to launch RUDENA, a bilateral energy agency aimed at introducing energy efficiency measures in Russia.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Typhoon Ketsana Continues to Target Cambodia

Typhoon Ketsana pounded Cambodia Wednesday after wreaking havoc in the Philippines and Vietnam, where the death toll reached the hundreds.

The storm has killed at least nine people in central Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province, the BBC reported.

A Red Cross official in the province, about 80 miles from the capital, Phnom Penh, said the nine died in the collapse of their home. He said several homes in the province were destroyed as heavy rain worsened the flooding problem.

Southern Laos appeared to be the next target of the storm.

Ketsana hit Vietnam and Cambodia Tuesday with typhoon strength winds, while in the Philippines it came ashore near the capital Manila as a tropical storm accompanied by torrential rains.

Flooding from the rains killed more that 240 people in Manila and neighboring suburbs and dumped mud and filth into the homes of tens of thousands of people. More than 300,000 people took refuge in temporary shelters.

In Vietnam, the typhoon killed more than 30 people and forced about 200,000 people out of their homes mostly in the central provinces, the BBC report said, adding severe flooding continued Wednesday in some of those regions.

Even as relief officials in the Philippines coped with dwindling food and other supplies to help the thousands of victims, weather officials warned of new storms approaching.

In Cambodia, international organizations pitched in to help government agencies distribute tents and food to affected people in five provinces, the BBC said.

CNN quoted aid agencies in Vietnam as saying about 200,000 had been evacuated from flooded areas. An estimated 13 inches of rain fell on the city of Hue, the report said.

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