U.N. Seeks Aid for Famine-Stricken Somalia

The United Nations and its World Food Programme pushes to open new routes to areas in Somalia where famine lies heavy.  Today, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, stated from Mogadishu (Somalia’s capital city) that the agency will be setting up new land and air routes that enter into the “core of the famine zone.”

Up until just recently, the militant group al-Shabab (which, coincidentally, share a link with another more familiar group: al-Qaida) had imposed a ban on incoming agencies set on giving foreign aid.  

As a drought, in some areas more severe than any seen within the last six decades, landed upon the Horn of Africa vast populations of Somalis were left devastated and in need of proper, and any, nutrition.

According to the Washington Post, due to a lack of water and unsafe conditions within the larger cities in the south of Somalia, countless numbers of people were left with nothing to sustain themselves and were sent “running for their lives.”

As one Somali woman, seen in this video from the Washington Post’s website, comments on the disaster: “Our livelihood depended on the rain—and the rain has stopped.” And just as quickly, so did their ability to effectively help their starving families.  The children have become the most at-risk, in this scenario, of starvation and diseases brought upon by malnourishment.

Already it is estimated that “tens of thousands” of Somalis have fallen victim to these circumstances.

What the United Nations needs and pleads for now is help—plenty of it, and quickly.  Currently the U.N. is petitioning to receive at least $300 million within the next two months (a small but important amount). During this time, they hope to find ways in which they could obtain and deliver additional amounts of food aid into the country.

The United Nations’ top official in regards to the humanitarian aid in Somalia, Mark Bowden, also believes the times are indeed dire: “If we don’t act now,” he explains, “famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.”

Bowden continues on to plead that “every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life and death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas.”

Conditions have not reached these levels that were last seen back in 1993, when it was noted that the United States sent aid and had two of their Black Hawk Helicopters shot down by the insurgents within the city.

According to the NPR website, a famine is characteristically defined by the death of either two adults or four children for every 10,000 every day—with the addition of at least one-third of the children within the area becoming severely malnourished.

In Somalia, however, these numbers are greatly surpassed—with somewhere around six people dying each and everyday, and malnourishment afflicting over half of the country’s children population—making it an unavoidable crisis.

And the harsh conditions are not estimated to be dissolving any time soon.  The weather, as it turns out, relentlessly continues with no end in sight for the near future (not, at least, until the end of this year).

But now with the ban previously established by al-Shabab lifted, perhaps the road to recovery will come along sooner than anticipated.  “What has been stopping us and our partners from operating in the south and center [of Somalia],” Sheeran states, “have been the insecurity and the restrictions imposed by al-Shabab.”

As of now, help has been arriving with additional monetary support sent by countries like the United States, Britain, the European Union, Spain, and Germany.  This, in turn, sheds a small light on a very dark scene.  

Even with this, however, support is still desperately needed in the area.  For more information on the famine and crises in Somalia and how you can help, feel free to check out the World Food Programme page: http://www.wfp.org/countries/somalia and their “get involved” page: http://www.wfp.org/get-involved.

Photo Credit: newsone.com/world/associatedpress2/somalia-famine/

Doubts About U.S. Nuclear Safety Plans

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a safety watchdog program, has released e-mails and memos from the Internal Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressing doubt that U.S. nuclear plants are ready for the kind of disaster that hit the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan.  

These documents, obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, show that U.S. regulators expressed worries about the current safety plans in place that would go in effect in the event of a disaster.  Regulators were more specifically concerned with the effectiveness of the safety plans in keeping reactors cool in the case that external off-site power were disconnected from the plant for an extended period of time. 

The doubts expressed by these regulators contrast with the confidence that officials have been publicly expressing since the disaster occurred in Japan.  While the NRC and the nuclear industry have issued reassurances to the American public that they are prepared to handle disasters of the same scope as the one that just occurred in Japan, Edwin Lyman, a UCS nuclear expert, notes that NRC senior analysts “are not so sure” that the United States can live up to the nuclear industry’s assurances.

However, some groups are contending that the UCS’ review is missing the point.  A spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute pointed out that the memos and emails were part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s study on how plants in Pennsylvania and Virginia would deal with a loss of power to the cooling system, which concluded that the assumed risk of releasing radiation after a catastrophic event is even lower than previously predicted.

Photo source: dhsem.wv.gov/rep/Pages/default.aspx

EPA Celebrates 40 Years of Protecting the Environment

From the Clean Air Act to the Clean Water Act, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for enforcing some of the oldest and most important environmental laws in the United States.  Last week the EPA celebrated its 40th anniversary, which falls at a time when the agency’s authority is increasingly threatened by pressure from industry groups.  Yet while industry groups like the US Chamber of Commerce say environmental and health regulations will hurt the economy, responses to the EPA’s 40th birthday suggest there remains strong public support for a strong Environmental Protection Agency.

Formed on December 2, 1970, the EPA was created by President Richard Nixon months after the first Earth Day.  Since then the agency has enforced laws passed by Congress related to air and water quality, control of toxic substances, endangered species protection, and wilderness preservation.  Early EPA achievements included banning the pesticide DDT, removing lead for gasoline in the United States, and restoring once heavily polluted US air and waterways.  During the 1980s and ‘90s, the EPA helped implement standards to phase out pollutants that contribute to acid rain and depletion of the ozone layer.

In the last two years, with public concern over global warming mounting, the EPA has moved to regulate greenhouse gases for the first time in history.  In 2009 the agency determined greenhouse emissions are a threat to public health and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.  The first greenhouse gas regulations for large stationary sources like coal-fired power plants are scheduled to take effect at the beginning of 2011.  The EPA has also worked with the federal Department of Transportation to upgrade fuel economy standards for cars and reduce US consumption of oil.

Forty years after its creation, environmental and health groups are pushing the EPA to move forward with regulating greenhouse emissions, and to strengthen other air pollution standards that have not been updated for years.  On Thursday, the day before the EPA’s 40th anniversary, youth activists arrived in Washington, DC to urge the agency to protect public health by regulating pollution from power plants.  Youth organizers with the Sierra Student Coalition delivered over 6,000 paper pinwheels created by students at more than fifty college campuses, to remind the EPA that shifting to wind power and other forms of renewable energy will create thousands of green jobs.

“Our generation was lucky enough to grow up with the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental policies,” said Kim Teplitzky, Campuses Beyond Coal organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition, “and we must ensure we maintain these critical protections for the health and prosperity of our and future generations.”

Meanwhile big business groups like the US Chamber of Commerce oppose regulations for greenhouse emissions, and other new pollution controls now being proposed by the EPA.  In a press release earlier this year the Chamber of Commerce said it supports regulating greenhouse emissions, but only through new legislation and not under the existing Clean Air Act.  The accuracy of this statement is unclear, because the group has never come out in support of a global warming law at the federal level.  In fact when US Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed legislation to curb global warming last year, the Chamber of Commerce opposed that bill as well.

Other groups argue cleaning up the environment has actually helped the economy—both by improving public health and by spurring investments in technology to reduce pollution.  A report commissioned by the Small Business Majority and the Main Street Alliance estimates the economic benefits of the Clean Air Act have so far been up to forty times greater than the costs.  Five hundred small business owners have signed onto a letter in favor of allowing the EPA to enact new pollution controls. 

Last week, in celebration of the EPA’s anniversary, more than a hundred people wrote notes on EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Facebook page urging the agency to continue protecting public health.  The vast majority of comments either thanked the EPA for work it has done, or asked it to go even further.  Hardly any comments requested the EPA do less to protect health and the environment. 

Despite industry groups’ opposition to enforcing the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws, public support for the EPA doing its job seems to be as strong as ever.  “It’s great to see the EPA taking significant new steps to crack down on pollution for the first time in almost a decade!” wrote Vassar College student Moey Newbold on Lisa Jackson’s Facebook wall last week.  “Thank you for your hard work.” 

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley