Posts tagged ‘Disaster Relief’
Zika Virus Worries.
(World map showing where active transmission of the Zika virus have been reported, mostly in Central and South America. Map: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
The World Health Organization says the Zika virus — which may be linked to birth defects — is spreading explosively in the Americas and may infect as many as four million people by the end of the year.
The global health agency says it will convene a special meeting on Monday (February 1) to decide whether to declare a public health emergency. The W.H.O. is moving swiftly to combat this outbreak after widespread criticism that it had allowed the last major global health crisis, Ebola, to fester without a coordinated, effective strategy, the New York Times reported Thursday (January 28).
At a briefing in Switzerland, Dr. Margaret Chan, the W.H.O.’s director-general, said Zika cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region. “The level of alarm is extremely high,” she said Thursday.
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, according to the CDC.
The outbreak in Brazil, where the first infection was reported, has led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.
The W.H.O. says a “causal relationship” between Zika virus infection and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established, but is strongly suspected.
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Brazil Deploys Army.
(Aedes aegypti mosquito, one of the transmitters of Zika virus. Photo by Rafaelgilo, via Wikipedia)
In Brazil, where the Zika outbreak has hit hardest, soldiers are being deployed to combat mosquitos, which transmit the disease.
The government says it will deploy 220,000 soldiers who will go from home to home handing out leaflets on how to avoid the spread of Zika, which has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains, the BBC reported.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel alert on January 15 advising pregnant women to consider delaying travel to affected areas to avoid the possibility of being infected, according to NBC.
In the Central American country of El Salvador, the government has taken the drastic step of urging women to refrain from becoming pregnant until 2018
For more about Zika virus, click here.
January 28, 2016 at 10:49 pm
The Sahel Region. (Wikipedia)
The United Nations is seeking a record $2 billion in aid for North Africa’s Sahel region to counter poverty, insecurity and climate change that could tip the area over, generating a new wave of mass migration, Reuters reported Wednesday (December 9).
The U.N. has increased its appeal for the nine countries of the semiarid band stretching from Senegal on the Atlantic to Eritrea on the Red Sea more than tenfold over the last 10 years, but funding has fallen short each year.
Attacks by militants from the radical Islamist group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin, as well as efforts by regional armies to counter them, have already forced 2.5 million people to flee their homes — a figure that has tripled in 12 months, according to Reuters.
Toby Lanzer, a U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator, noted the thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East flooding into Europe. “Eventually, you are going to have thousands or tens of thousands of people [from the Sahel] who will seek opportunities elsewhere or, if worse comes to the worst, be forced to flee,” he told Reuters.
A portion of the 2016 funding, part of a $20.1 billion record U.N. humanitarian appeal, will also go toward education, which Lanzer hopes will encourage young girls to finish schooling and cap population growth in a region ill-equipped to cope with a forecast sixfold increase in population by 2100.
The biggest recipient in 2016 will be Chad with $567 million, which has suffered a series of Boko Haram suicide bombings in recent months, followed by Mali with $354 million and Niger with $316 million. Other countries in the Sahel include Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Sudan
The refugee appeal comes just a day after U.N. Security Council appealed for greater international security cooperation and more humanitarian aid to bring stability to sub-Saharan Africa.
Concern about terrorist safe havens in Libya and the humanitarian crisis caused by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria, are at the heart of the Security Council’s warning.
In a presidential statement issued two weeks after the top U.N. regional official warned that the sub-Saharan Sahel region will become fertile ground for recruiting terrorists among its tens of millions of disadvantaged people, the 15-member Council called for a dual policy of combatting terrorism and its havens while eliminating its root causes through aid and development.
December 9, 2015 at 11:58 pm
Food for Thought: Double Trouble.
News that some of the gunmen and suicide bombers in the Friday the 13th Paris attacks were European nationals have politicians and governments on both sides of the Atlantic fretting and fulminating.
They’re worried that terrorists may be hiding among the refugees swarming into Europe — like one of the attackers in Paris who killed 129 people. They also fear that refugees from Muslim countries like Syria and Iraq — even if they’re fleeting terrorism — may become radicalized by anti-Western propaganda and turn into Islamist terrorists themselves.
In the United States, the governors of more than half the states say thousands of Syrian refugees President Barack Obama wants to bring to America are not welcome. Only 1,500 Syrian refugees have been accepted into the United States since 2011, but the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed to enter the country as refugees next year, according to CNN.
Syrian and Iraqi refugees leave a boat from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos.
(Photo by Ggia via wikipedia)
Meanwhile, some countries in Europe, which has been swamped this year by more than 700,000 political and economic refugees from the Middle East and Africa, say they won’t take in any more people. According to Reuters, 1,500 migrants remain trapped in northern Greece unable to cross the border into Macedonia after other countries in the Balkans began limiting their intake to Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. Meanwhile, Poland cited the Paris attacks as the reason for not taking in 4,500 Syrian refugees as part of a European Union plan to spread the immigration burden, Britain’s Daily Mail reported. Instead, Poland’s new foreign minister suggested turning the refugees into an army to fight and “liberate their country with our help.”
Here at 4GWAR, we don’t have all the answers to these expanding problems, but we offer two pieces of research that could help point the way to a solution.
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Winning Muslims’ Trust.
You know the old saying “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar”? Well, some academic researchers say their work shows harsh rhetoric and cold shoulders can make Muslims feel like they don’t belong in Europe or the United States — and that can lead to radicalization.
“Our research, forthcoming in Behavioral Science and Policy, and in partnership with the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, shows that making Muslims feel this way can fuel support for radical movements. In other words, many Western policies that aim to prevent terrorism may actually be causing it,” say in an article on “The Conversation” website via the Washington Post.
Lyons-Padilla, a research scientist at Stanford University’s Stanford SPARQ and Gelfand, a professor and Distinguished University Scholar Teacher at the University of Maryland, asked hundreds of Muslims in Germany and the United States to tell them about their experiences as religious and cultural minorities — including their feelings of being excluded or discriminated against on the basis of their religion. “We also asked how they balance their heritage identities with their American or German identities. We wanted to know if these kinds of experiences were related to their feelings toward radical groups and causes.”
Because you can’t pre-interview a potential terrorist, they measured two indicators of support for radicalism.
“We asked people how willing they would be to sacrifice themselves for an important cause. We also measured the extent to which participants held a radical interpretation of Islam. (For example, they asked whether it’s acceptable to engage in violent jihad.) “Finally, we asked people to read a description of a hypothetical radical group and tell us how much they liked the group and how much they would want to support it.” This hypothetical group consisted of Muslims in the United States or Germany upset about how they were treated by society and would stop at nothing to protect Islam.
“Overall, support for these indicators of extremism was very low, which is a reminder that the vast majority of Muslims do not hold radical views,” the researchers wrote. But the responses of some interviewees showed they felt marginalized and identified with neither the culture of their heritage nor the culture of their adopted country — in effect they were “culturally homeless.”
“The more people’s sense of self worth was threatened, the more they expressed support for radicalism,” the researchers said. “Our findings are consistent with a theory in psychology that terrorists are looking for a way to find meaning in their lives.” Extremists know and exploit these vulnerabilities, targeting Muslims whose sense of significance is low or threatened, they wrote.
The researchers add: “For people who already feel culturally homeless, discrimination by the adopted society can make matters worse. In our data, people who said they had been excluded or discriminated against on the basis of their religion experienced a threat to their self-esteem. The negative effects of discrimination were the most damaging for people who already felt culturally homeless.”
The research results suggest that cultivating anti-immigrant or anti-Islamic sentiment is deeply counterproductive. “Anti-immigrant discourse is likely to fuel support for extremism, rather than squelch it,” the authors said. To read the full article, click here.
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Beyond conflict, there is another contributing factor to the waves of refugee flooding Europe: water scarcity, according to a world renowned environment and development research organization.
Water Stress in Syria and Middle East.
(World Resources Institute map)
“A well-documented path can connect water scarcity to food insecurity, social instability and potentially violent conflict,’ say researchers at the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank.”As climate change amplifies scarcity worries, more secure water supplies could help the lives of millions in conflict zones,” say WRI’s , and
They say drought and water shortages in Syria are likely to have contributed to the unrest that stoked the country’s civil war — now in its fourth year. Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people — primarily farmers and herders — to lose their livelihoods and leave their land. The farmers then moved to urban areas, magnifying Syria’s general destabilization.
The unstable conditions are likely to deteriorate in coming decades. Syria is projected to be among the 11 most water-stressed countries in the world by 2040. And it’s not alone in the region. Fourteen of the 33 likely most water-stressed countries in 2040 are in the Middle East. Water stress is an underlying conflict multiplier that will not go away, the trio of researchers say.
Food prices and other food-supply disruptions are caused by a complex series of factors, including the global food trade and government subsidies. But local water stress can make the situation worse over the long term, the WRI researchers says. Part of the reason Middle Eastern countries had to import so much food is that water is relatively inaccessible compared to other food-growing regions, they added.
To read the entire article, including possible solutions to water stress, click here.
November 25, 2015 at 11:59 pm
Two Big Conferences.
4GWAR was lying low last week after a busy conference season — Air & Space — Modern Day Marine — Military Reporters and Editors and one of the biggest, the Association of the U.S. Army.
But this week, we want to call your attention to two important conferences running almost simultaneously in the Washington D.C. area.
UNMANNED SYSTEMS DEFENSE
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) — the trade group of robotic and autonomous systems makers, researchers, developers and users — holds their annual meeting with the military, technology experts and the defense industry. Presentations and panel discussions will review the Pentagon’s programs for drones and robots that fly in the sky, roll or walk across the ground or swim in or under the sea. In fact, the gathering used to be called the program review but now it’s called Unmanned Systems Defense.
It runs for three days, starting Tuesday (October 27) at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Arlington (Pentagon City), Virginia. Each day is dedicated to a different battlespace: maritime, air and ground. Speakers will include program managers and officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — along with several congressmen and officials from Special Operations Command and DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
For more information, click here.
The companies and organizations that supply goods, servcies and technology to peacekeepers, relief groups, advisers and other non-governmental organizations are also meeting in the Washington area this week. The International Stability Operations Association (ISOA) is holding its 10th summit at the National Press Club starting Wednesday (October 28).
ISOA says it represents companies and organizations “whose work lays the foundation for long term stability and growth in the world’s most unstable places. We serve the implementing community, providing member services focused on contracting, partnerships, regulatory and legal developments, research initiatives, policy movement, and whatever else our members deem important.”
We last wrote about ISOA in 2013, when some ISOA members expressed interest in possible using drones to obtain intelligence about possible danger in remote locations, finding refugees who have fled violence or food shortages and where the greatest need for food is in vast regions with few roads.
Among the speakers ISOA members will hear from at the two-day event: the former head of U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham (ret.); Ambassador Brett McGurk, the deputy special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS and the Islamic State); the former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), rerired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Program Support), Gary Motsek.
October 25, 2015 at 11:52 pm
Geopolitical Powder Keg.
The Horn of Africa
According to new research, the Horn of Africa is warming and drying faster now than it has over the past 2,000 years.
That research — into ancient marine sediments — contradicts global climate models, which show the geopolitically unstable region getting wetter as emissions boost temperatures worldwide, the Scientific American reported Tuesday (October 13).
The Jessica Tierney, lead author of the new paper, published in Science Advances last Friday (October 9), says the new findings “changes our view of how greenhouse gases will affect future warming in the Horn.” Tierney, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona, said scientists — herself included — believed that rising emissions “would lead to rainier seasons.”
Violent conflicts, droughts and famines have already wracked the area of Eastern Africa roughly encompassing Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Sudan. Climate change could be a “threat multiplier,” Tierney and her colleagues said.
Peter deMenocal, a co-author of the paper and the director of the Center for Climate and Life at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, says the region is a “geographical powder keg” that has been experiencing tremendous food insecurity, water insecurity, geopolitical insecurity and now “we’re adding to that climate insecurity.”
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An armed group in western Libya says it has released 30 of the approximately 300 Tunisian workers it kidnapped Tuesday (October 13), the BBC reported. The group says it is holding the rest in the town of Sabratha.
Kidnappings of Libyans or foreigners by any one of the country’s militia groups are routinely staged to extort money, encourage a prisoner exchange, or for political leverage.
Hassan Dabbashi, the head of the armed group that took the Tunisian workers, told the BBC that it wants the Tunisian government to release the Mayor of Sabratha in exchange for their captives.
The Libyan mayor was arrested in Tunis airport at the weekend after attending a workshop on local governance hosted by the United Nations Development Programme.
Tunisia and its neighbors.
(Map from CIA World Factbook)
Meanwhile, the Tunisian military said Monday (October 12) that Islamist militants killed two Tunisian soldiers near the Algerian border.
The soldiers were searching for a kidnapped shepherd in that western region of the country and four other soldiers were wounded during the search near Mount Sammama.
The army has been carrying out operations in western Tunisia, where dozens of security forces have died battling Islamic extremists, the VoA reported.
The military did not identify which group of extremists might have carried out Monday’s attack, which occurred just days after Tunisian civil society groups won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Associated Press reported. The Arab Spring reform movement originated in Tunisia in 2010 and 2011 and quickly spread to other nations.
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Insecurity, Violence … Now Hunger.
The United Nations says violence against aid groups and general insecurity have plunged the Timbuktu region of northern Mali into a hunger crisis. Tens of thousands of children are at an increasing risk of dying from malnutrition, the U.N. said, according to the Voice of America website.
A French AMX-10RCR armored reconnaissance vehicle in convoy near Gao, Mali in the drive against Islamist fighters in 2013.
(Copyright French Ministry of Defense)
About one in six people in the region are suffering from acute malnutrition, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [UNOCHA] said. That includes more than 50,000 children under the age of five who are up to nine times more likely to die, because they are malnourished, the U.N. agency said.
Conflict in Mali erupted in 2012, when a loose coalition of separatist rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants swept across the north of the country before a French-led military intervention in 2013 drove them from the main towns they had been occupying, according to VoA.
Armed groups drove the Malian army out of many posts in the north last year, and they are now fighting each other for control of land, which has uprooted tens of thousands of people and hindered relief efforts, aid agencies say.
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Somali Fishing Grounds Plundered.
Remember all the problems pirates caused around the Horn of Africa just a few years ago?
Well locals in the coastal trading town of Durduri, Somalia say there are no more fish in the sea. They blame not the pirates who brought the attention of international law enforcement to Somalia’s waters, but the foreign fishing boats that have plundered sea-life stocks, according to the Al Jazeera news site.
And if things don’t change, they say, a return to piracy will be their only way of survival.
Large foreign vessels “come at night and take everything”, one young fisherman told Al Jazeera. “With their modern machinery, there is nothing left,” he added.
His accusations are backed up by two new pieces of research, according to the website. The studies, conducted by separate Somali development agencies, suggest that international fishing vessels – particularly Iranian and Yemeni, but also European ships including Spanish vessels – are illegally exploiting the East African nation’s fish stocks on a massive scale.
While piracy put a stop to illegal fishing, these findings suggest it was merely a hiatus. Now that international anti-piracy task forces have halted the seagoing hijackers, illegal fishing vessels have returned.
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Health workers treating Ebola patients in Africa. (World Health Organization photo by Christine Banluta)
U.S. officials said last month that they are ending Ebola screening of passengers arriving from Liberia, one of several West Africa countries ravaged by the deadly virus.
But screening and monitoring will continue for travellers from Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The screening of travelers from the three West African nations began last October when the countries were in the midst of the worst Ebola epidemic in world history, the Associated Press reported.
But the epidemic has waned. International health officials this month said the Ebola virus is no longer spreading in Liberia.
Travellers from Liberia will no longer be funneled through only five U.S. airports, either, unless they’ve been in Guinea or Sierra Leone in the previous three weeks.
Liberia will continue to screen passengers for Ebola as they leave the country, the AP said.
October 13, 2015 at 11:58 pm
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VIRGINIA — We went south of Washington this week for a first-time visit to the Modern Day Marine (MDM) expo and confrence.
Photo courtesy of Modern Day Marine Military Exposition
Unlike massive military and industry conferences like the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space in April and the Association of the U.S. Army gathering next month in Washington, Modern Day Marine is held outdoors (in large air conditioned tents) instead of in a huge convention center. Even the panel discussions conducted by Marine Corps brass are held in a very big tent with folding chairs on temporary flooring.
At the first panel discussion, several generals and a couple of colonels talked about the importance of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), pronounced MAGTAF. It’s the Corps’ basic expeditionary force that can put Marines ashore via landing craft, helicopters — or both — as part of a rapid response to a crisis. We’ll discuss this more over the weekend.
But we want to get to the four monster amphibious vehicles on display facing each other in one of the expo’s big tents.
For years the Marine Corps has been looking for a replacement for its aging Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV), a tracked landing craft that has been around since the 1970s. Five companies are competing for the contract to build the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) to replace the AAV.
The original planned replacement vehicle, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), was cancelled in 2011 by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates for being too expensive and behind schedule.
Now the Marines are looking for a big vehicle that can carry at least 10 Marines (beside an operating crew of three), get them to the beach from a ship as much as 12 nautical miles off shore, at a speed of at least 6 knots. The ACV will have to be as rugged and protective as a tank but be able to carry troops far inland quickly, if necessary.
Lockheed Martin’s entry in the ACV competition.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)
Lockheed Martin unveiled its offering for the first time on Tuesday (September 22). Like all of the others on display, it is an 8×8 behemoth. The desert tan vehicle can carry as many as 13 Marines as well as a three-person crew.
BAE Systems, which makes the current AAV, is hoping to replace it with its entry displayed in forest camouflage colors.
BAE Systems ACV entry.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle
Science Applications International Corporation, better known as SAIC, had its gray Terrex 2 vehicle on display. The Terrex can carry 11 passengers plus a crew of three.
SAIC ACV on display at Modern Day Marine.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)
Last but not least was a solid green 8X8 from General Dynamics.
The General Dynamics entry in the Marines’ ACV competition.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)
Also in the hunt for the ACV program — but not at MDM — is a team consisting of of Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems and St Kinetics, a Singapore company.
The Marines are expected to select two vehicles from the five offerings in November. Each company will then provide 16 vehicles to be tested in all types of climes and conditions.
[More on Modern Day Marine this weekend. Stay tuned.]
September 25, 2015 at 1:34 am
Why can’t a Robot be more like a Man?
South Korea’s Team KAIST robot, DRC-Hubo, uses a tool to cut a hole in a wall during the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, June 5-6, 2015, in Pomona, Calif.
Updates with photos and more details.
A robotics team from South Korea has taken the top prize in a $3.5 million challenge conducted by the Defense Department’s think-outside-the-box research unit.
Team KAIST of Daejon, Republic of Korea, and its robot DRC-Hubo, took first place in the two-day competition that ended Saturday (June 6), as well as the top prize of $2 million. Two American teams, from Florida and Pennsylvania took second and third place. More than 10,000 spectators turned out for the challenge at the former Los Angeles County Fairgrounds — now known as the Fairplex — in Pomona, California.
Sponsored by the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the DARPA Robotics Challenge brought 23 teams from six countries together for a two-day competition of robot systems capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. The idea, first promoted by DARPA in 2012, was a response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster the previous year following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Small, tracked robots were able to enter damaged nuclear facilities to monitor radioactivity and provide video of areas too dangerous for humans to enter. But those robots lacked the ability to shut down equipment, get around debris or climb stairs to upper levels in the facility.
Carnegie Mellon University’s CHIMP robot opens a door.
Your 4GWAR editor first wrote about the challenge for Unmanned Systems magazine in November 2012.
According to DARPA program manager and DRC organizer Gill Pratt, the challenge was designed to be extremely difficult. Participating teams had a very short time period to collaborate and develop the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces to enable their robots to complete a series of disaster response-related challenge tasks selected by DARPA. The tasks for each robot included: driving a vehicle alone for 100 meters; walking through rubble; tripping electrical circuit breakers; using a tool to cut a hole in a wall; turning valves and climbing stairs.
There were a dozen teams from the United States and 11 more from Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and China (Hong Kong).
South Korea’s Team KAIST claims their $2 Million prize after winning the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
The winner, Team KAIST, is from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Their robot was called Hubo for humanoid robot. Coming in second, and winning a $1 million prize was Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Florida. IHMC stands for the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition. Their robot was called Running Man. In third place, and earning a $500,000 prize was a team from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh — Team Tartan Rescue. Their robot was called CHIMP for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform.
All the competitors had to drive Polaris Industries’ limited edition DARPA Polaris Ranger XP900 and GEM electric vehicles for the the robot driving part of the DRC Finals.
Click on the photos to enlarge the image. To see more photos of the competition, click here.
To see videos of the DRC, including when Team KAIST won, click here.
June 11, 2015 at 11:58 pm