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Monday, 23 August 2004

UNEP and the Executive Director in the News

  • American Daily - U.N. Environmental Agenda Infiltrates Boy Scouts

  • Indian Express - Flood control measures being taken

  • The Washington Post - The tourism industry employs

Other Environment-related News

  • The Guardian - 4x4s replace the desert camel and whip up a worldwide dust storms

  • Reuters - Glaciers Shrink, But Some Resist Global Warming

  • BBC - Mystery of Wales turtle 'solved'

  • BBC - Avian flu 'discovered in pigs'

Environmental News from the UNEP Regions

  • ROAP

  • ROWA

Other UN News
S.G.'s Spokesman Daily Press Briefing of 20 August 2004

American Daily

U.N. Environmental Agenda Infiltrates Boy Scouts

By Cheryl K. Chumley (07/14/2004)

The Boy Scouts of America’s newest merit badge is surely to include the U.N. emblem.

That’s because this American institution has just become partners with the United Nations Environment Program, the global network that advances the radical principle of sustainable development. Defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” this U.N. Agenda 21 principle is basically a bottomless pit of international regulation that seeks to spread its jurisdiction over all facets of human life – 39, at last count – from agriculture and the atmosphere to transportation and waste storage and disposal.

And now the Boy Scouts will help.

On July 7, UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Organization of the Scout Movement, committing nearly 30 million children and youth to advancing this U.N. body’s environmental agenda. The WOSM is comprised of 153 national scouting groups; BSA, with an estimated 6.24 million participants, is one of its largest affiliates, second only to Indonesia and its 8.9 million members.

There’s potential for big impact here, and with more than six million of our country’s most impressionable minds at stake, it’s imperative to realize that this partnership does not spring from any friendly, common-sense “Smokey the Bear” principle of preservation, but rather from the deep-rooted desire of the United Nations to train the next generation to favor the good of the world over the good of the separate nation or individual.

This memorandum, for instance, is the culmination of a 2002 UNEP Governing Council report outlining long-term strategies to save the environment via anti-sovereign Agenda 21 doctrine.

“Its objective is to create a global movement in which children and youth worldwide will actively participate in environmental activities. It seeks to enhance, inspire and enable the involvement of children and youth in sustainable development,” the policy report, which BSA through WOSM will now uphold, reads. “The vision is to foster a generation of environmentally conscious citizens who will better influence the decision-making process and act responsibly to create a sustainable world.”

These “environmentally conscious citizens,” six million of whom are now scouts, will learn to appreciate such U.N. ideals as personified in the Kyoto Protocol, a harmful international contract that seeks to regulate greenhouse gas emissions by restricting business and manufacturing activities, or in the Convention on Biological Diversity, another global gem that places the rights of, say, the single-cell organism on par with that of humans.

Other Agenda 21 and sustainable development ideals that run contrary to our nation’s founding notions of a constitutional republic valuing sovereignty and individual rights can be found in the Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Climate Change, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, to name a few. Environmental treaties all, these U.N. measures seek to dictate at the international level how nations develop land, grow business, use water – and that the United States has not committed via ratification to some of these regulations, no longer matters.

Grown boy scouts, trained to appreciate these very same environmental measures, most assuredly will.

Likely unwitting participants, scout leaders complying with the UNEP-WOSM Memorandum of Understanding and its accompanying long-term policy report will nonetheless help “introduce incentives for young people to participate in environmental activities” that promote the very tenets of these treaties America has so often fought or scorned, and “appropriately recognize young people who participate in UNEP’s campaigns and activities” with bronze, silver and gold certificates.

High achieving scouts, those awarded the gold for “solving environmental problems in their countries or regions,” are eligible for membership in the governing council of a UNEP body that represents the next formal level of youth brainwash, the Tunza Advisory Council. Tunza, “to treat with care or affection” in Kiswahili, is the name given the aforementioned six-year concept devised by the UNEP Governing Council in 2002 to target those between the ages of six and 30 for environmental training.

The Tunza plan aims “to include all schools, children and youth-related organizations,” and its latest success is placing the Boy Scouts of America beneath its umbrella.

The convolutions weaving youth into U.N. environmental agenda go much further. But to keep it simple, just listen for 12-year-old scouts with seemingly sudden knowledge of Kiswahili and know from where this rather obscure talent stems.
Indian Express

August 22, 2004

Flood control measures being taken

Abandon the densely populated foreshore, resettle the population elsewhere and return the land to the river. NEW-AGE wisdom from an enlightened ecologist? Back-to-nature punditry from a 21st-century babu? Impractical advice from a flood-control panel chairman? None of the above, actually. Those are the words of B Chia, an 8 BC Chinese expert anointed to prepare a flood-control plan for the Yellow River. Their currency was reinforced emphatically last week, when two things happened simultaneously. One, a small tributary of the Sutlej by the name of Pareechu was dammed in the Tibetan Himalayas following a landslide. If the debris wall of stones, boulders and silt gave way, millions of cusecs of water would gush through the Sutlej valley in Himachal Pradesh. A 2002 MoU between the governments of China and India allowed adequate warning; thousands were evacuated and the valley was put on high alert. Two, in the foothills of the Himalayas, Bihar witnessed one of its worst floods in 15 years. Large swathes of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh went under water as the Brahmaputra and the Kosi - rivers originating in Tibet and Bhutan - overflowed their banks and changed their course. None of these phenomena possessed the drama and novelty of Pareechu, and the disasters made few headlines. To be fair, the response mechanism of the Union government did kick into action. It produced yet another high-powered Flood Control Task Force, which will submit its report on a flood-control strategy by December. Its recommendations are not expected to be substantially different from previous commissions' (see box, A river runs through policy), but it has also been tasked with sourcing funds for implementation of the strategy. Never-ending storyBETWEEN the floods and the task force lies the story of floods in India, pretty much an annual feature now, killing thousands and destroying property worth crores (see accompanying story, Bihar's water slide). Floods in India are partly a curse of geography: Of a total area of 329 million hectares (MHA), 40 MHA was declared flood-prone in 1980. By the 10th plan period (2002), it had expanded to 45.64 MHA, of which, the government claims, 16 MHA is protected. In all, some Rs 20,000 crore has been spent on flood control. But for all the difference it has made - or the technological, scientific and engineering tools that have been deployed - it seems the country has no imagination left to tackle the flood fatigue. The Flood Control Task Force, therefore, has a lot riding on it. Its primary challenge: To rise beyond the build-embankment knee-jerk recommendation. In Bihar, some 3,400-km of embankments were built by the mid-'80s, but the flood-prone area increased from 2.5 MHA to 6.4 MHA. If it discards the contractor-friendly solution of low-cost embankments (that resulted, in the words of a North-East expert, ''in a series of bathtubs along the Brahmaputra''), the panel has several options to consider: * It could force states to ''flood-zone'', keep the flood plains empty of people and allow the river to flow and ebb, leaving rich silt after every monsoon.* It could recommend the construction of giant reservoirs with flood cushions storing water for the lean season.* It could recognise that while the might of rivers is uncontrollable, monitoring stations and satellites could warn of cloud-bursts, flash floods, glacier-melts and landslide lakes well in advance, allowing evacuation and minimising damage. A RIVER RUNS THROUGH POLICY

GOOD intentions have never been lacking when it comes to flood control. Implementation, though, is another matter. * Policy Statement, 1954: Aimed at containing and managing floods * Supplementary Statement, 1956: Stated that immunity from floods was not possible * High Level Committee on Floods, 1957: Said all projects should consider flood-control aspects. Promoted embankments, flood-plain zoning, flood forecasting and soil conservation * Policy Statement, 1958: Stated immunity against floods was impossible. * Ministers' Committee on Flood Control, 1964: Reviewed the national policy of 1954 * Ministers' Committee on Flood and Flood Relief, 1972: Examined policy for additional storage, restricted anti-erosion works and acted to prevent encroachment of rivers * Rashtriya Barh Aayog, 1976: Evolved a coordinated, integrated approach to flood control and drew out a national plan. All recommendations were sent to state governments. * Rangachari Committee, 1996: Reviewed recommendations of RBA, identified flood damage assessment, flood-plain use, performance evaluation * National Water Policy, 2002: Drew up a master plan for flood control of flood-prone basins, flood cushion in storage basins, modernisation of flood forecasting. Emphasised no In all likelihood, the panel will suggest a mix of the above, switching tack from ''flood control'' to ''flood management''. But then, as R Rangachari - former commissioner in the Ministry of Water Resources, veteran of several panels and a member of the latest task force - says, ''As with everything else in the country, it is the implementation that is the problem, not the strategy.'' Plain talesBUT implementation has never been as important as it is now. The jury may be still out on global warming and its impact on glaciers and rivers, but two years ago, the United Nations came out with a report that could double as a script for a Hollywood disaster movie. After studying 4,000 glaciers and 5,000 glacial lakes in Nepal and Bhutan, the report warned that dozens of these water bodies could burst their seams over five years. This wasn't the first warning: Scientists at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi have frequently predicted intense flooding in the Himalayas over the next half-decade or so, as melting snowfields and glacier-fed mountain lakes overflow. Another report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development and UNEP says that 24 of 2,674 glacial lakes in Bhutan are ''potentially dangerous'', meaning that they could burst any time. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out national borders are meaningless in such a disaster scenario. Now, consider the number of potential rogue rivers flowing into India: * The Brahmaputra, after originating in Tibet, flows through 1,700 km of foreign territory before entering India through a narrow, snowy gorge. The slope in Assam is much steeper than an aging river requires, so the heavy silt load and flood discharge extend over an area of 5,80,000 sq km.* The Kosi and Gandak in Bihar, too, flow through Nepal before crossing over into India.* The Sutlej is born in the Manasarovar and is fed by a number of tributaries in Tibet before flowing into India. * Far less publicised than Pareechu, a small river by the name of Beki in Bhutan dammed and then burst this monsoon, creating havoc in the Barpeta district of Assam.* In 2000, the Siang in Arunachal Pradesh rose by 100-120 feet, devastating four districts of the state, killing 26 and sweeping away at least three strategic bridges, totalling damages of Rs 140 crore. Initially attributed to a freak cloud-burst, the floods were later found to have been triggered by the release of excess water in the Tsang Po, as the Brahmaputra is known in China.* Almost 50 years before that, an artificial lake, formed in the Siang after a massive earthquake, burst, causing the Brahmaputra to change its course and spark one of the North-East's worst-ever floods. Being neighbourlyALL of which just goes to make a case for better cooperation on flood data between neighbouring countries. Though the pact with China helped the Centre access some information on Pareechu, the quantum leaves much to be desired. At present, India can get news on the status of the Tsang Po at three locations: Nugesha, Uangkun and Nuksia. ''We receive data from these stations via e-mail twice a day. This gives us enough time to react and take precautions,'' says A K Srivastava, executive engineer, Central Water Commission, Guwahati. It takes 20 hours for the water to flow from Nuksia to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh, and 16 hours for it to reach Dibrugarh. The Assam government, however, doesn't agree with Srivastava's positiveness on the India-China pact. ''The Assam government cannot write to the Chinese authorities. We thus keep pressing the Centre from time to time on the need to not just share information, but also take up joint projects, so that the Brahmaputra does not go out of control,'' says an Assam government official. India has sourced data from Nepal since 1989, from Bangladesh since 1972 and from Bhutan from the 70s. With China, even the sketchy information available on the Pareechu would not have been accessible before 2002. Apart from tapping neighbouring countries, the Centre has set up two gigantic river panels: the Ganga Flood Control Commission and the Brahmaputra Board. They were charged with drawing masterplans of the respective basins and preparing detailed reports on multi-purpose projects. The plans are in place, but there is little to show for it in the ground. Undeterred, the Centre set up a Rashtriya Badh Aayog in 1976. The mother of all commissions submitted 207 recommendations - including, for the first time, a scientific mapping of flood-prone areas with the help of detailed hydrological data. The suggestions were duly forwarded to the states for implementation but, two decades later, the Rangachari Committee found that none of the states had worked on any of the ideas. To dam or not to damTHE role of big projects in stemming floods is still controversial, though experts believe the situation downstream of the Narmada would have been much worse this monsoon if the under-construction Sardar Sarovar dam had not stored thousands of cusecs of water. The Maithon and Hirakud reservoirs, too, are said to have moderated floods. In the North-East, the Brahmaputra Board believes the problem can only be solved by building large storage dams in the upper part of the basin. Two projects - the Subansiri project and the Dihang dam - were taken up, but both are stuck at the Supreme Court. A third, the Pagladiyar dam project, has been approved by the Centre but work is yet to begin, thanks to local resistance. Located in the tribal-inhabited upper Assam region, it would bring relief to the lower Assam region. Sapta Kosi, a joint project with Nepal, is similarly stuck because while the submergence will be in Nepal, the flood benefit will come to India. ''In most cases, the flood relief happens in one area while the brunt of submergence is faced by people in the upper reaches,'' says R K Goyal, chairman, Brahmaputra Board. There is no unanimity on the usefulness of embankments either. While state governments opine that they work well, there is evidence to suggest they increase flood intensity. ''They were constructed as short-term measure and in a piecemeal manner, these are not systematically planned or designed,'' says the working paper on the 10th Plan. Since 1954, 33,000 km of embankments have been constructed and 37,000 km of drainage channels created. Because they were designed as stop-gap measures, however, no long-term hydrological data went into their construction. The force of the Kosi and Gandak, in fact, are so strong that present design of embankments has been undermined. Experts feel these structures do not allow the silt to disperse when the river is in spate. The silt accumulates on the river bed, raising the bed, leading to floods. It also distorts the gradient of the outfall points. However, the Centre still considers embankments the cheapest flood-control measure. ''It is not the embankments per se that are bad, it is the maintenance,'' says Goyal. Interlinking channelsNEW thought, though, is increasingly moving towards flood-plain zoning. This involves mapping the flood plain and then regulating land use strictly. It recognises the fact that the river will burst its banks and spill out on the flood plain. The flood plain is integral part of the river system. When it is not occupied by water, it forms part of land system allowing agriculture, urban development and other economic activities. To regulate the land use in flood plain, a draft model Bill for Flood Plain Zoning was circulated in 1975. Except for Rajasthan and Manipur, no state has moved on it. Then there is the ambitious river-linking project. While initially the Vajpayee government plan to transport water from surplus areas to deficient ones received a cold shoulder from the UPA, the project is now under review. Flood control is one of the benefits that is likely to come out of it. Experts agree that as part of the non-structural measures, nationwide flood forecasting has to be established. India currently has 139 stations for river stage forecasts and 27 for inflow forecasts. The 10th Plan has sanctioned Rs 51 crore for their upgradation, especially real-time data collection methods that will liberate them from phones and e-mails. Funding, though, is a major concern. ''Less than one per cent of the GDP is sanctioned for flood-proofing. It is not enough,'' says Rangachari. When a British irrigation expert William Willcock came to India in 1920s, he raved about a system followed in West Bengal: an intricate system of inundation canals to channelise the overflow from the river. With the population and pressures on land growing, this may be scoffed at now, but apply a dose of imagination to this, and there could be a solution. with Samudra Gupta Kashyap in Guwahati Bihar's water slidesEmbankments on Bihar's rivers have seen little maintenance. That explains the frequent floods NIRMALA GANAPATHY MUZAFFARPUR: EVERY year as the water in the Bhagmati river rises, it takes away a bit of the embankment built along it. This year, say experts, Bihar recorded the highest flood level since 1987. About 10,000 cubic water flowed through the Bhagmati river alone. Originating in the Shivpuri range, 20 km ahead of Kathmandu, the Bhagmati enters Bihar through Dheng. And each time its level rises and a bit of the embankment slips, Bihar's Sitamarhi district is flooded. The cause of these slipping embankments is not difficult to see. The last time any maintenance was done here was in 1994. ''There has been negligible maintenance on the embankments,'' agrees an official. District Magistrate Surya Kumar Mishra justifies the oversight. ''The regular maintenance of embankments has not taken place due to financial constraints and small breaches have become bigger. I think regular maintenance is one way out.'' Most of these embankments were made in 1950s, or even earlier, and are in urgent need of repair. Apart from the Bhagmati, other ice-fed Himalayan rivers like the Ghagra, Gandak, Bhure Gandak, Bhagmati, Kamla, Kosi and Mahanendu flow through Bihar. Population pressure has compounded the problem. Experts say the number of people mining sand from the embankments has increased sharply. ''The growth of population is another reason. Sand is being carried out indiscriminately by people living in the area and by contractors,'' says Dr Achintya, associate professor in the department of civil engineering at the Muzaffarpur Institute of Technology (MIT). According to MIT figures, the population density of India is 274 per sq km, while in North Bihar, it is 735/sq km. And now rodents too are joining humans in destructive digging. ''Since maintenance is not being done, rats also become a factor. They make holes and weaken the structure,'' says Achintya. A flood control report supports the theory. But there are ways to hold these embankments up. According to Achintya, maintenance combined with brick lining along the embankments will prevent erosion. But there is no single solution. ''Flood control is such a problem that there is no one and permanent solution. First of all, the river channel should be dredged. An embankment is a working solution - if built properly, it will reduce the force of the water. But the problem should also be addressed in Nepal. That's the suitable site for a dam, not Bihar,'' says Dr Arun Prakash, professor and head of MIT's civil engineering department. ''An embankment is only a temporary solution. But I think the permanent solution lies elsewhere an understanding should be reached with Nepal. The water has to be controlled at the source. And that is what the state government is trying to do,'' says Mishra, adding, ''the solution also lies with the desilting of the river bed. Otherwise, the next time the floods come, they will again break old records.'' The way the world does itINDIA may seem to have got a raw deal so far as natural calamities are concerned, but countries far wealthier and less densely populated don't seem to have too good a time of preventing floods either. Control measures, though, are well in place. A checklist: UNITED STATESOf all natural disasters, floods - caused by hurricanes, snowmelts, dam-collapses and rainfall - caused the most damage in terms of lives and property in the US in the 20th century. To limit the damage, a number of measures are institutionalised: * Construction capacity in the floodway is strictly regulated.* Property that cannot be adequately covered by flood control measures is acquired by the government for public use.* Financial and technical assistance for flood-proofing is provided by the government. Free publications are available on the subject.* The most severely damaged areas get priority consideration and assistance from state and federal sources; flood insurance programmes are in place. EUROPEFollowing the worst floods of a century in the summer of 2002, Central European countries came to a consensus on certain vital issues: * Flood plains have to be preserved, though 85 per cent has been diminished because of land utilisation.* The Mulde Concept, named after one of the worst-affected rivers, suggests making effective use of the natural flood drainage functions of the rivers, allowing farmlands to get flooded but protecting densely populated areas.* Mobile levees will take care of ancient city areas and other important sites. CHINAWith the Huang-Ho and the Yangtse-Kiang rivalling the Ganga and the Brahmaputra in terms of flooding potency, and population outstripping India's, China has seen an increasing frequency of devastating floods. The response, though, has been swift: * Plans are in place to restore reclaimed land around lakes and rivers to wetland areas. Efforts are on to control logging in the upper and middle reaches of the river, thus protecting the watershed.* Flood control statistics are standardised; a flood control and drought relief body deals with all related issues.* Dam and reservoir construction is a priority; so is training officials in flood control measures.* Accountability is a given: local administrative heads are in charge in every sense of the term if natural disaster strikes. Tanvi Saraf


LOAD-DATE: August 22, 2004


The Washington Post

August 22, 2004 Sunday

The tourism industry employs 200 million people worldwide and generates 11 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

SOURCE: A report by the nonprofit biodiversity group Conservation International and the U.N.

Environment Program.

LOAD-DATE: August 22, 2004

Top of Form

The Guardian (London) - Final Edition

August 20, 2004

Dust storms

4x4s replace the desert camel and whip up a worldwide dust storm: Winds carrying 3bn tonnes a year threaten environment and human health: Smothering of coral reefs: Links United Nations Environment programme

BYLINE: Paul Brown: Environment correspondent


Dust storms emanating from the Sahara have increased tenfold in 50 years, contributing to climate change as well as threatening human health and destroying coral reefs thousands of miles away.

And one major cause is the replacement of the camel by four-wheel drive vehicles as the desert vehicle of choice.

Andrew Goudie, professor of geography at Oxford University, blames the process of Toyotarisation - a coinage reflecting the near-ubiquitous desert use of Toyota Land Cruisers - for destroying a thin crust of lichen and stones that has protected vast areas of the Sahara from the wind for centuries.

Four-wheel drive use, along with overgrazing and deforestation, were the major causes of the world's growing dust storm problem, the scale of which was much bigger than previously realised, Prof Goudie, master of St Cross College, told the International Geographical Congress in Glasgow yesterday.

"I am quite serious, you should look at deserts from the air, scarred all over by wheel tracks, people driving indiscriminately over the surface breaking it up. Toyotarisation is a major cause of dust storms. If I had my way I would ban them from driving off-road."

The problem has become so serious that an estimated 2-3bn tonnes of dust is carried away on the wind each year. Storms in the Sahara transport dust high into the atmosphere and deposit it as far away as Greenland and the US.

Britain was seeing increasing levels of "blood rain" in spring that came direct from the Sahara, Prof Goudie said. From an aircraft over the Alps in summer it was possible to see the telltale colour of red dust on the mountains.

Although the storms are mainly particles of quartz, smaller than grains of sand, they also contain salt and quantities of pesticide and herbicide which can cause serious health problems. Microbe-laden dust from storms is also credited with carrying cattle diseases such as foot and mouth.

The world's largest single dust source is the Bodele depression in Chad, between an ever-shrinking Lake Chad (now a twentieth of its size in the 1960s) and the Sahara. The depression releases 1,270m tonnes of dust a year, 10 times more than when measurements began in 1947, according to Prof Goudie's research.

Taking the whole Sahara, and the Sahel to the south, dust volumes had increased four to sixfold since the 1960s. Countries worst affected were Niger, Chad, northern Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, the research found.

Smothering of coral reefs

But the effects went far beyond. In the Caribbean, scientists had directly linked the death of coral reefs to smothering by dust which had travelled 3,000 miles.

African dust had also found its way to Greenland, Prof Goudie said. While white ice reflected sunlight and remains frozen, the dark dust on top absorbed the sun's heat, causing the ice to melt and accelerating the raising of sea levels.

Prof Goudie said it was as yet uncertain what other effects the dust was having on the climate. The airborne dust both reflected sunlight back into space and blanketed the Earth holding the heat in. When it dropped in the sea it fertilised the plankton which absorbed carbon dioxide and cooled the ocean surface, creating fewer clouds and less rain - a vicious circle which made the dust problem worse.

Where the dust source was the dried-up bed of a salt lake or sea, salt deposited from the storms could ruin agricultural land, leading to more deserts and more dust. There might be more serious consequences for human health emerging elsewhere in the world.

The Aral Sea in central Asia had almost dried up, according to the research. Its inflowing rivers were used for irrigating cotton, causing the seabed to be contaminated by pesticide toxins which were now being blown about in the dust. People who have breathed in the dust have serious allergic reactions.

Prof Goudie also warned that climate change might cause dust problems to return to the US prairies. While improved agricultural practices, wind breaks and higher rainfall had cured the Dust Bowl of the 1930s (immortalised in John Steinbeck's novel the Grapes of Wrath), the conditions were once again similar. Dust storms were now common in the US and could lead to a disease, Valley Fever, an allergic reaction to pesticides in the dust which caused inflammation of the nose and throat, killing several people a year.

In China, extensive efforts had been made to plant trees to hold back the dust, and increases in rainfall had also helped, the study found. However, large dust storms were still emanating from the vast deserts in the north, which included the Lopnor nuclear test site - raising fears that storms could interfere with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and might contain radioactive particles. The Chinese have said they were confident this would not happen.

LOAD-DATE: August 20, 2004


Glaciers Shrink, But Some Resist Global Warming

OSLO - Glaciers are melting faster than before in some regions from the Arctic to the Alps but others are getting bigger, scientists said.

They are unable to crack the conundrum of why certain glaciers may be more resilient to global warming, though one reason could be that melting sea ice falls back to earth as snow and so causes some of the ice mountains to grow.

"It's too early to say if glacier melting is accelerating worldwide" compared to U.N. forecasts in 2001, Jeffrey Kargel of the U.S. Geological Survey told a seminar on glaciers in Oslo. "In some areas it is, but the picture is mixed."

The scientists said a retreat of glaciers will push up sea levels, threatening to swamp low lying areas from Bangladesh to the Netherlands, and affect everything from ski resorts to agriculture and hydropower production.

Many glaciers are apparently melting because of rising temperatures - glaciers in the Alps have shrunk by more than 20 percent in the past two decades.

"In the Alps the rate is definitely accelerating," said Andreas Kaab of the University of Zurich.

Around the Arctic, many glaciers in Canada and parts of Alaska are also retreating faster than in the past. But some in Norway have even grown while others in Alaska are stable.

One reason for glacier growth may be that rising temperatures melt sea ice that is sucked up into clouds as moisture, some of which falls as snow.

The Briksdalsbreen glacier in west Norway, for instance, grew about 400 meters in the late 1990s before a recent retreat.


"An accelerating melting has been observed in parts of the Arctic - Canada and Alaska," said John Ove Hagen, a glacier expert at the University of Oslo. "But it's not the same around the Arctic."

U.N. studies project that emissions of greenhouse gases, from cars, power plants and factories, may drive up global temperatures by 1.4-5.8 Celsius (3-12 F) by 2100.

That will contribute to melt glaciers with U.N. studies indicating that sea levels could rise by about 30-50 cms by 2100, threatening many coastal regions and low-lying islands like Tuvalu in the Pacific.

But the studies indicate that the main stores of frozen water on land, in Antarctica and Greenland, are unlikely to melt much in the coming century - their vast volumes of ice act as a deep freeze.

Story by Alister Doyle

Story Date: 23/8/2004


Mystery of Wales turtle 'solved'

Scientists think they may at last know why the world's largest leatherback turtle was washed up on a Welsh beach.

The 9ft-long creature was found near Harlech - more than 7,500km from its birthplace in the West Indies.

According to a report in BBC Wildlife magazine new research suggests that leatherbacks should be viewed as a British species which simply visits the Caribbean to breed.

Five of the world's seven turtle species can be seen off the UK coast.

The Harlech leatherback has been put on display at the National Museums and Galleries of Wales in Cardiff.

It weighs 144 stone and, at 100 years old, it was the oldest recorded turtle as well as the largest.

Sadly, it was found dead in 1988 after it drowned whilst trapped by fishing lines.

More and more Leatherbacks are being spotted around the coast of Britain and Ireland, suggesting the turtles are trawling our waters for their favourite food - jellyfish.

Since the Welsh discovery, marine ecologists at Swansea University and University College Cork used satellite-tracking systems to follow 10 leatherbacks from their nesting sites in the tropics.


Contrary to expectations, the tracking showed that the turtles did not stay long in the Caribbean, but spend most of their time in food-rich northern waters, including those around the British Isles.

More work on the study is now underway in the Irish Sea but Peter Richardson, of the Marine Conservation Society, hopes it will lead to leatherbacks being re-classified as British - so improving the species' chances of survival.

Turtle numbers have been in serious decline worldwide because of coastal redevelopment, egg-snatching, pollution and fishing.

Long-line fishing alone is believed to kill around 50,000 leatherback turtles a year when they become accidentally caught on hooks.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Avian flu 'discovered in pigs'

Scientists in China say they have discovered a highly virulent strain of bird flu virus in pigs.

An official at the China National Avian Flu Reference Laboratory said the H5N1 virus strain had been found in pigs at several farms in the country.

More than 20 people died and almost 200 million birds were culled during a flu epidemic in Asia earlier this year.

The spread to pigs has yet to be confirmed, but there could be serious implications for human health if it is.

The World Health Organization said that if the pigs were harbouring both bird and human flu viruses, the two strains could interact to create a strain capable of transferring easily to humans.

New development

Chinese scientist Chen Hualan first announced the existence of bird flu in pigs during a conference speech on Friday.

She later told journalists that the virus had been discovered in pigs in south-east China's Fujian province in 2003, and in "another place" in 2004.

Officials at both the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said they were unaware of the new development until Ms Chen's comments.

"I think it's something we've long warned can happen. I don't think we're shocked, but we need more details," WHO spokesman Roy Wadia told the French news agency AFP.

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is currently capable of spreading from poultry to people, but the incidence of cross-species transfer is relatively rare and so far there have been no cases of human-to-human transfer.

There is a fear that, if it has spread to pigs, the virus could mutate and form a strain that could then readily transfer to humans.

But the WHO cautions that a lot more information is needed before an accurate risk assessment can be made.

For one thing, it is not yet clear whether the pigs are actually infected with the virus, or have merely come into contact with it.

Pigs can pick up viruses in their snouts from sniffing at the ground, but this does not mean they actually have the disease.

In an earlier outbreak, nasal swabs from pigs in Vietnam tested positive for bird flu, but blood tests proved that they were not actually infected.

"If we found [the virus] in the nostril, a superficial part of the body, it would not be as significant. If we found it in an organ, say the lungs, that would be significant," FAO spokesman Juan Lubroth told AFP.

Pressing problem

Meanwhile bird flu continues to plague many parts of Asia.

It ravaged poultry flocks throughout the region earlier this year, and caused the deaths of 27 people in Vietnam and Thailand.

A further three people are said to have died from the disease in Vietnam earlier this month.

Malaysia is the latest country to report the incidence of the disease in its poultry flock.

Officials announced earlier this week that the H5N1 strain had been found, prompting Singapore to ban all poultry imports from Malaysia with immediate effect.

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