‘DDT has become harmless to mosquitoes today’

March 29, 2018

From India today, not news to anyone who follows the fight against malaria, and the fight to save a part of the planet to preserve human life.

DDT resistance prompted India to agree to stop production of DDT by 2020 — the last DDT factory remaining. India’s disease fighters tell of frustration trying to control malaria, because abuse of DDT has bred DDT resistant and immune mosquitoes. This is not news.

But India Today has a news hole to fill, and the continuing crises of vector-borne diseases force public health agencies to turn to “fourth generation” pesticides, as insects are now resistant to DDT and malathion.

The story out of New Delhi on March 13 almost adds some poetry to the issue. I repeat the story from India Today in full, partly because I love the lilt of Indian English, and because it tells the story of continuing attempts to get ahead of pesticide resistance in pests, attempts that just don’t seem to be doing the job.

Delhi’s civic agencies asked to use fourth generation pesticides to kill chemical-resistant insects

A small vehicle fogging streets of Delhi, India, with DDT, to fight mosquitoes. File photo from India Today, used to illustrate the story only.

A small vehicle fogging streets of Delhi, India, with DDT, to fight mosquitoes. File photo from India Today, used to illustrate the story only.

Pesticides such as DDT and malathion, which were once super weapons in the fight against mosquitoes, now seem to have become harmless perfume-like sprays for the blood-sucking parasites.

Scientists at the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP), Delhi which is the central nodal agency for prevention of diseases like malaria, dengue, filariasis, kala-azar, Japanese encephalitis and chikungunya, etc, in India has now recommended municipalities in the Capital and other parts of the country to shift to the 4th generation of pesticides that is also the last in the row.

These constitute certain bio-larvicides and insect growth regulators that stop the synthesis of critical hormones in mosquito larvae to prevent them from becoming adult. Only after attaining maturity, do the female Anopheles and Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes suck blood to get protein nutrition to lay eggs.

Scientists explain that the first generation of pesticides was DDT, used since World War II on soldiers in 1940s up till now, as its a powerful poison against mosquitoes. Later, its environmental effects, specifically on birds like vultures, reduced its usage globally.

Then came malathion, which had to be applied in huge quantities, paving the way for 3rdgeneration pesticides like synthetic pyrethroids and temephos. But with reports of mosquitoes developing tolerance towards all of these gradually, scientists are now recommending mixed and increased usage of the fourth generation of pesticides that is also the last line of defence in this class.

Experiments are still going on with genetically modified mosquitoes and introducing batches of mosquitoes injected with wolbachia bacteria in the wild to produce sterile eggs. A senior scientist with the NVBDCP, Civil Lines, said, Just like humans develop resistance towards antibiotics, mosquitoes have also evolved over the past 20-30 years to grow natural defence against DDT, malathion, etc. We are still using these two in virgin areas like forests of northeast India, Odisha, etc. successfully. But we have begun getting reports that even temephos and synthetic pyrethroids have stopped receiving the desired results against mosquitoes.

A pesticide is said to be successful when it kills over 90 per cent of the targeted insect or pest population. Over 3,500 species of mosquitoes, which play host to a number of disease-causing vectors such as zika, yellow fever, west Nile virus, etc. are said to be the deadliest animal family in the world. They kill 700 million people annually world over.
In Delhi itself, at least 10 people died of dengue last year and 9,271 people were affected.

The numbers of malaria and chikungunya cases recorded in 2017 stood at 1,142 and 940. In 2016, at least 21 dengue deaths were reported from various city hospitals. And this year, an early onset of the deadly trio dengue, malaria and chikungunya is expected with summer-like weather conditions already.

High temperature and presence of clear water in desert coolers, flower pots, coconut shells, etc, act as excellent breeding sites for the menacing insects.

We have asked municipalities to even use the fourth generation of pesticides pirimiphos-methyl and diflubenzuron in a mix with the previous generation pesticides to delay mosquitoes developing tolerance towards this in the future, the scientist explained. He said, over the years, the pesticides must be rotated in use so that their effectiveness on hardy mosquitoes does not go down.

Dr Himmat Singh, senior scientist at the National Institute of Malaria Research (NIMR), Dwarka, said, The benefit with these two latest pesticides is that they are only hormone-inhibitors, not poisons, and specific to mosquitoes. So they wouldnt have any effect on other insects, birds, mammals, fishes, etc. They are categorised as non-hazardous by WHO. However, their cost has been prohibitive so far, he said.

Delhi municipalities have begun their use after a meeting of scientists and bureaucrats of NVBDCP, NIMR, ministry of health and family welfare and the Central Insecticide Board (CIB) authorised their application in January, sources said.

Dr NR Das, head of the department of Public Health in east MCD said, We have already procured diflubenzuron on NVBDCP directions and been using it for one month satisfactorily. However, we will be able to ascertain its degree of effectiveness only after two to three months.

For at least a decade, India has been the world’s largest producer of DDT, and the largest user, spraying more DDT than the rest of the world together. China and North Korea were the only two other nations making DDT at the end of the 20th century, but both cut off production. Counter to popular conceptions, India has struggled to control malaria, often being the only nation in the world to account increases in the disease from year to year, since 2001. Malaria increased despite increasing DDT application.

To fight malaria effectively DDT spraying should be limited to Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS), which leaves a fine coat of DDT on the walls of sleeping rooms, where malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite humans, then pause on the walls to squeeze water out of the blood they’ve fed on, to reduce weight to fly. Broadscale spraying of DDT only speeds development of resistance in all mosquito species, and many other pests.

India is catching up with the rest of the world on DDT.

Tip of the old scrub brush to India Today’s Twitter feed.

 

 


January 30: A beginning, beginning of the end, end of the beginning, end

January 30, 2017

When students claim to find fantastic conjunctions of dates that they claim show worldwide conspiracies, sometimes centuries in existence, I point them to the internet to find what happened on that date (whatever date it is) and note coincidences “a suspicious mind” might find compelling.

Almost every date on the calendar produces astonishing coincidences. But that’s all they are.

Right? It’s not as if there are such conspiracies, or that the gods conspire to send us messages by making momentous things occur on the same day, right?

January 30 is a momentous date, according to the AP list of events that occurred on this day.
A suspicious mind might reel at these coincidences.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Beginning: Franklin Roosevelt, the only president of the U.S. to break the tradition of getting elected to two terms only, was born on January 30, 1882,  in Hyde Park, New York.  (Both Ulysses Grant and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to break the two-term tradition  before.)  Roosevelt served at the 32nd president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  During his first term the date of presidential inaugurations was moved from March 21 to January 21, partly in appreciation for the period of time the nation drifted seemingly deeper into depression between Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933.  Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, won election as New York’s governor in 1928, and then won the 1932 presidential race.  His death on April 12, 1945, pushed Harry Truman into the presidency for three years before he had to face the electorate.

End of the beginning: On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany.  A World War I veteran, Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government. Hitler was seven years younger than FDR, but their careers occasionally coincided on key years.  Hitler’s assuming power in January 1933 gave him a two-month jump on FDR; at the time, few people, if anyone noticed the coincidental rise, nor could see the significance of the events of the year.  According to The History Place:

Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.

Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January 30th, Hitler was sworn in.

“I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people, protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially and with justice to everyone,” swore Adolf Hitler.

Democratic-based government in Germany was doomed for the foreseeable future.  Few foresaw that.

Beginning of the end: On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese new year celebration known as Tet, Vietcong and North Vietnamese army regulars kicked off the Tet Offensive, striking targets all over Vietnam simultaneously.  Caught nearly completely by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces lost control of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital for a time.  While the U.S. and South Vietnamese eventually won these many battles and pushed out the invading forces,  the simple fact that the thought-to-be-decimated forces of Ho Chi Minh could pull of the offensive at all sent the chilling message that victory in this guerrilla did not yet belong to South Vietnam and the U.S., nor had a tide been turned.   After tumultuous elections in the U.S., Richard Nixon’s presidency could not turn the tide, either.  A “peace” was negotiated, mostly between North Vietnam and the U.S., in 1973, but it did not hold.  In 1975 relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam hit crisis again, and the U.S. pulled out the last forces left in South Vietnam in April.  Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces defeated the rapidly dissipating military of the South, and the country was united under communist, North Vietnam rule.

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians; image from Bins Corner, probably public domain

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

An end: Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse shot and killed Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, on January 30, 1948.  Gandhi was known as “Mahatma,” which means “Great Soul.”  Gandhi campaigned for India’s independence and end of British colonial rule for most of the 1920s, including a period of time in prison for subversive activities.  Gandhi’s great contribution to political change is the massive use of non-violent, non-cooperation.  Non-violent tactics tend to highlight the moral positions of groups in conflict, and make the non-violent side appear to have the stronger case.  Such tactics expose hypocrisy and despotic government rules.  Though he resigned from his political party in 1934, Gandhi remained a key icon of the drive for India’s independence.  When violence broke out over the Mountbatten plan to grant independence in 1947, creating two nations of Pakistan and India divided along religious, Gandhi again appealed for peace, but became the most famous victim of the religious violence that still roils the region today.  Committed to peace and non-violence, Gandhi himself did not ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps because his life was cut short.  His work inspired other Nobel Peace laureates, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Nelson Mandela (with Frederik Willem deKlerk, 1993), and U.S. President Barack Obama (2009).

On January 30, 2011, when I first noted these coincidences here, much of the world held its breath, watching events in North Africa, including especially Tunisia and Egypt.  I wondered, which of these traditions would that day follow, to peace, or toward war?

On January 30, 2017, the installation of Hitler and the Tet Offensive remind us of hubris of world leaders and really bad decisions that can have disastrous results, soon, and for a long time after.

Coincidence? What do you think?


India, world’s last DDT maker, heaviest user, plans to stop

August 29, 2015

DDT sprayed in a vegetable market in India. (Photo: rzadigi) Living on Earth image

DDT sprayed in a vegetable market in India. (Photo: rzadigi) Living on Earth image

Sometimes big news sneaks up on us, without press releases. We often miss it.

Quiet little Tweet from journalist I’d never heard of, who passed along news from an obscure journal:

As a journalist, this guy has a piece of a world-wide scoop.

India is probably the last nation on Earth producing DDT.  In the last decade other two nations making the stuff got out of the business — North Korea and China. For several years now India has been the largest manufacturer of DDT, and far and away the greatest user, spraying more DDT against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, sand flies, and agricultural and household pests than the rest of the world combined.

As if an omen, India’s malaria rates did not drop, but instead rose, even as malaria rates dropped or plunged in almost every other nation on Earth.

Under the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) signed by more than 150 nations (not including the U.S.), DDT was one of a dozen chemicals targeted to be phased out due to its extremely dangerous qualities, including long-term persistence in the environment and bioaccummulation, by which doses of the stuff increase up the food chain, delivering crippling and fatal doses to top predators.

A perfect substitute for DDT in fighting some disease-carrying insects (“vectors”) has never been developed. Health officials asked, and the Stockholm negotiators agreed to leave DDT legally available to fight disease. Annex B asked nations to tell the World Health Organization if it wanted to use DDT. Since 2001, as DDT effectiveness was increasingly compromised by resistance evolved in insects, fewer and fewer nations found it useful.

The site Mr. Nazakat linked to is up and down, and my security program occasionally says the site is untrustworthy. It’s obscure at best. Shouldn’t news of this type be in some of India’s biggest newspapers?

I found an article in the Deccan Herald, confirming the report, but again with some

India-United Nations pact to end DDT use by 2020

India-United Nations pact to end DDT use by 2020

New Delhi, August 26, 2015, DHNS:

It would be better to switch to another insecticide, says expert

India is the lone user of DDT, though only in the malaria control programme, while rest of the world got rid of the chemical that has a lasting adverse impact on the environment. DH file photo

India is the lone user of DDT, though only in the malaria control programme, while rest of the world got rid of the chemical that has a lasting adverse impact on the environment. DH file photo

India has launched a $53 million project to phase out DDT by 2020 and replace them with Neem-based bio-pesticides that are equally effective.

India is the lone user of DDT, though only in the malaria control programme, while rest of the world got rid of the chemical that has a lasting adverse impact on the environment.

India on Tuesday entered into a $53 million (Rs 350 crore) partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility to replace DDT with safer, more effective and green alternatives.

“As per the plan, the National Botanical Research Organisation, Lucknow, tied up with a company to produce Neem-based alternatives for the malaria programme. The production will start in six months,” Shakti Dhua, the regional coordinator of UNIDO told Deccan Herald.

Till last year, the annual DDT requirement was about 6,000 tonnes that has now been cut down to 4,000 tonnes as the government decided to stop using it in the Kala-Azar control programme.

A recent study by an Indo-British team of medical researchers found that using DDT without any surveillance is counter-productive as a vector control strategy as sand flies not only thrive but are also becoming resistant to DDT.

“It would be better to switch to another insecticide, which is more likely to give better results than DDT,” said Janet Hemingway, a scientist at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. While the Health Ministry wanted to bring in synthetic pyrethroids, the United Nation agencies supports the bio-pesticides because of their efficacy and long-lasting effects.

“The new initiative would help check the spread of malaria and other vector-borne diseases. These include botanical pesticides, including Neem-based compounds, and long-lasting insecticidal safety nets that will prevent mosquito bites while sleeping,” Dhua said.

Ending the production and use of DDT is a priority for India as it is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) of 2002 that seeks to eliminate the use of these chemicals in industrial processes, drugs and pesticides. DDT is one of the POPs.

The clock is counting down the last years of DDT.  Good.

If events unroll as planned, DDT making will end by 2020, 81 years after it was discovered to kill bugs, 70 years after it was released for civilian years, 70 years after problems with its use was first reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 58 years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, 50 years after European nations banned some uses, 48 years after the famous U.S. ban on agricultural use, 19 years after the POPs Treaty.

When will the news leak out?

More:


India, world’s top DDT user, socked with malaria increase

July 22, 2015

Were it true that DDT is a magic solution to malaria, by all measures India should be malaria free.

Not only is India not malaria-free, but the disease increases in infections, deaths, and perhaps, in virulence.

Map showing location of Odisha, or Orissa, state, in India. Wikipedia image

Map showing location of Odisha, or Orissa, state, in India. Wikipedia image

Since the late 1990s a small, well-funded band of chemical and tobacco industry propagandists conducted a campaign of calumny against Rachel Carson, environmentalists in general, scientists and health care workers, claiming that an unholy and wrongly-informed conspiracy took DDT off the market just as great strides were beginning to be made against malaria.

As a consequence, this group argues, malaria infections and deaths exploded, and tens of millions of people died unnecessarily.

That’s a crock, to be sure. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, inspired an already-established campaign against DDT. But the malaria eradication program begun with high hopes by the World Health Organization in 1955, foundered in 1963 when the campaign turned to central, tropical Africa. Overuse of DDT in agriculture and minor pest control had bred DDT-resistant and immune mosquitoes.  Malaria fighters could not knock down local populations of mosquitoes well enough to let medical care cure infected humans.  (The campaign was not helped by political instability in some of the African nations; 80% of houses in an affected area need to be sprayed inside to stop malaria, and that requires government organizational skills, manpower and money that those nations could not muster.)

Detail map of Odisha state, India; map by Jayanta Nath, Wikipedia image

Detail map of Odisha state, India; map by Jayanta Nath, Wikipedia image

That was just a year after Carson’s book hit the shelves. DDT had been banned nowhere. WHO’s workers tried to get a campaign going, but complete failures stopped the program in 1965; in 1969 WHO’s board met and officially killed the malaria eradication program, in favor of control.

Malaria infections and deaths did not expand with the end of WHO’s campaign.  At peak DDT use, roughly 1958 to 1963, malaria deaths are estimated by WHO to have been as high as 5 million per year, 4 million by 1963. Total malaria infections, worldwide, were 500 million.

The first bans on DDT use came in Europe. When the U.S. banned DDT use on crops in 1972, okaying use to fight malaria, malaria deaths had fallen to more than 2 million annually by optimistic estimates.  Death rates and infection rates continued to fall without a formal eradication campaign. By the late 1980s, malaria killed about 1.5 million each year, a great improvement over the DDT go-go days, but still troubling.

Beating malaria is a multi-step program.  Malaria parasites must complete a life cycle in a human host, and then when jumping to a mosquito, another cycle of about two weeks in the mosquito’s gut, before being transmissible back to humans. Knocking down mosquito populations helps prevent transmission temporarily, but that is only useful if in that period the human hosts can be cured of the parasites.

In the late 1980s, malaria parasites developed strong resistance and immunity to pharmaceuticals given to humans to cure them.  Regardless mosquito populations, human hosts were always infected, ready to transmit the parasite to any mosquito and send drug-resistant malaria on to dozens more.

From about 1990 to about 2002, malaria deaths rose modestly to more than 1.5 million annually.

New pharmaceuticals, and new regimens of administration of pharmaceuticals, increased the effectiveness of human treatments; coupled with much better understanding of malaria vectors, the insects that transmit the disease, and geographical data and other technological advances to speed diagnosis and treatment of humans, and increase prevention measures, WHO and private foundations started a series of programs in malaria-endemic nations to reduce infections and deaths. Insecticide-impregnated bednets proved to be less-expensive and more effective than Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) featuring DDT or any of the other 11 pesticides WHO authorizes for home spraying.  (Home spraying targets mosquitoes that carry malaria, and limits expensive overuse of pesticides, plus limits and prevents environmental damage.)

Health care workers and most nations made dramatic progress in controlling and eliminating malaria, between 2000 and 2015, mostly without using DDT which proved increasingly ineffective at controlling mosquitoes, and which also proved unpopular among malaria-affected peoples whose cooperation is necessary to fight the disease.

By 2014, fewer than 220 million people got malaria infections, worldwide, a reduction of about 55% over DDT’s peak-use years. This is remarkable considering the population of the planet more than doubled in that time, and population in malaria-endemic areas rose even more. Malaria deaths were reduced to fewer than 600,000 annually, a reduction of more than 80% over peak DDT years. By 2015, malaria-fighters once again spoke of eradicating malaria from the planet.

In contrast, India assumed the position of top producer of DDT in the world, still making it even after China and North Korea stopped making it. But malaria control in India weakened, despite greater application of DDT.  The world watches as DDT, once the miracle pesticide used in anti-malaria campaigns, became instead a depleted tool, unable to stop malaria’s spread despite increasing application.

Were DDT the magic powder, or even “excellent powder” its advocates claim, India should be free of malaria, totally. Instead, Indians debate how best to get control of the disease again, and start reducing infections and deaths, again. Below is one story, rather typical of many that crop up from time to time in India news; this is from the Odisha Sun Times. (Note: Lakh is a unit in the Indian number system equal to 100,000; crore is a unit equal to 10,000,000.)

Odisha has 36% of malaria cases in India; ranks third in deaths

Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Mar 15:

Odisha has earned the dubious distinction of having a hopping 36% share of all malaria cases in India and ranking third in the list of states with the most number of deaths leaving most of its neighbours way behind.

Malaria Mosquito

These startling revelations have been made in a report tabled by the Union Health and Family Welfare department in the Parliament.

What is more disturbing is that the number of persons getting afflicted with the disease in the state is rising every year despite the state government spending crores of rupees to arrest the spread of the disease.

The state government has been spending crores of rupees on a scheme christened ‘Mo Masari’ (“My Mosquito Net’) and has been claiming that the number of afflicted has been falling in the state. But the Central government report has exposed the hollowness of the claim.

According to the report, out of the 10.70 lakh people who were afflicted with malaria in India in the year 2014, about 3.88 lakh (36.26%) were from Odisha. In 2010, around 3.95 lakh were afflicted with the disease. The number had come down to 3.08 lakh in 2011 and had further scaled down to around 2.62 lakh in 2012, the report says.

But the number of malaria patients in Odisha is again rising at a faster pace since then, according to the Health Ministry report.

Even though the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are identified as malaria prone states, much less people are afflicted with malaria in these states as compared to Odisha. In 2014, only 1.22lakh people were affected with the disease in Chhattisgarh while only 96,140 persons were affected by malaria in Jharkhand in the same year.

Statistics cited in the report also reveal that Odisha has left many states behind and has marched ahead of others in the matter of number of deaths due to malaria. It ranks third on this count in the country.

In the year 2014, a total of 535 persons had died of malaria across the country. Out of them 73 (13.64%) were from Odish while Tripura had the maximum number of deaths in terms of percentage at 96 (17.94%) followed by Meghalaya, another hilly state, with a toll count of 78 (14.58%).

Another disturbing fact that has emerged from the report is that out of those who have died of malaria in Odisha, 80 percent are from tribal dominated areas.

The districts of Gajapati , Kalahandi , Kandhamal, Keonjhar, Koraput, Malkangiri, Mayurbhanj, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada and Sundargarh account for both the maximum number of deaths due to malaria and maximum number of persons afflicted with the disease.


How kids get to school, New Delhi edition

March 19, 2014

From Twitter:

From Twitter: “Another e.g. pic to show that school transport in Asia needs attention on health & safety aspects pic.twitter.com/Mn2FbSSELX”

Do you think the students have wi-fi to finish their homework on the way to school?

(This is not necessarily representative of all Indian school buses.)

One wonders at the stories behind such “buses” and their use.  It might make an interesting geography assignment, to find out how students get to school in other nations.  What is the most exotic, bizarre, dangerous or luxurious ride?

More:


Say what? India only now figures out DDT kills birds?

January 17, 2012

Here’s a troubling thought:  What if India’s use of DDT now is just as destructive as the use of DDT in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s?

Why even mention it?  We’ve been reminded here that in the 21st century India is the world’s leading producer of DDT, and that the nation uses more DDT than the rest of the world combined.

Mon Town Baptist Church in the mist, Nagaland, India - Wikipedia image

Mon Town Baptist Church in the mist, Nagaland, India. The people of the state of Nagaland are mostly Christian, and local Baptist groups were among the most politically active groups who worked to put an end to fighting in the area in the early 1960s – Wikipedia image

From my perch in Dallas, Texas, it’s difficult to get a perspective on just how much DDT is used in the nation, and how much of the use is abusive, out of doors, or leading to environmental contamination.

One of the news feeds picked up on this opinion piece from Maneka Gandhi, blogging at the Nagaland PostNagaland is India’s most northeastern province.

Blyth’s Tragopan is the state bird of Nagaland, India's most northeastern province. A member of the pheasant clan, this beautiful bird is threatened by overhunting and DDT, even though it is chiefly a seed eater.

Blyth’s Tragopan is the state bird of Nagaland, India’s most northeastern province. A member of the pheasant clan, this beautiful bird is threatened by overhunting and DDT, even though it is chiefly a seed eater.

Among other troubling issues:  Ms. Gandhi talks about “with the disappearance of the vulture.”  Ecologists should sit up and take note of that; what cleans up the roadside carrion in Nagaland?

Killing birds due to human activity

[Maneka Gandhi]

16 Jan. 2012 11:51 PM IST

Last week I wrote about the strange and mysterious deaths of birds and fish that have taken place. But how many birds are killed every year due to human activity? I am not going to take into account the billion chickens that are killed at the rate of 1000 every minute, the turkeys, emus, ducks, quail that are slaughtered in the millions. I am talking about the birds you do not eat but kill anyway with deliberate malice or carelessness. Why are you ignorant of these? Because bird bodies are rarely found on the roads.

Night roaming scavengers finish them off very quickly. Here’s one estimate of numbers. A 2005 paper by Wallace Erickson, Gregory Johnson, and David Young (“A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions”) estimates that 500 million-1 billion birds are killed each year in the U.S. alone from human-related causes.

This includes: Collisions with buildings – 550 million (58.2%) Collisions with power lines – 130 million (13.7%) Cats – 100 million (10.6%) Cars, trucks, etc. –80 million (8.5%) Pesticides – 67 million (7.1%) Communication towers – 4.5 million (0.5%) Wind turbines – 28.5 thousand (less than 0.01%) Airplanes –25 thousand (less than 0.01%) Other sources (oil spills, fishing by-catch, etc) – did not estimate I would put the same number in India.

Perhaps decrease the collision with buildings and increase the pesticide hit ones. While large mortality events make the news, the constant attrition, the constant killing has put one in six bird species worldwide in danger of extinction because of the factors listed above plus habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change. I was in Kolkata recently to start a campaign to save sparrows. It consisted of caps, drawings, speeches and the distribution of bird feeders.

I hope it will work but this much I learnt – very few of the children in the school had even seen a sparrow. How many kinds of birds have you seen? Most cities now just have crows and kites and a few parakeets. Looking at this list, can you see a number of ways that people – from municipalities to individuals can work to prevent at least some of these deaths.

Things like making windows and other structures more visible to birds, keeping cats indoors, and minimizing use of pesticides are all crucial to the survival of many species. The deaths are huge and quick but they are preventable if we just tweak our lifestyles. If I told you that you stood at the edge of a cliff and a little step forward would kill you but if you just sidestepped, you could reach safety, would you not?  Often the disappearance of a bird species alters entire human lifestyles, forcing them to change.

With the disappearance of the vulture most villages have had to think of what to do with cow/bullock dead bodies.

The carcass which would have been cleaned up in an hour by the vultures now becomes a threat to human life. No solutions have been found as yet. The Parsis will have to find another way to honour their dead as the towers of silence have no vultures so an entire religion has changed. China lost its sparrows (killed all of them) and then lost its grain because the insects proliferated. It finally had to import sparrows and start rebreeding them.

Today it is losing them again – as we are. Animal mortality is actually a far larger problem than these numbers might suggest. Just one example: in the U.S. there are some 70 million house cats. Each year they kill off hundreds of millions of native birds and more than a billion small mammals such as rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels. The numbers are staggering. But they tend to go unnoticed, except by ecological researchers.

Most people consider what these cats (which are non-native, invasive pets) are doing to be “natural.” While animals are killed by weather fluctuations, lightning generated fires, the impacts of volcanism, earthquakes or other natural threats, all these hazards pale in comparison to what humans do to them. We have become by far the most significant factor in the deaths of individual animals, or entire species over the past several centuries.

There are many lethal artifacts of civilization. These range from agricultural toxins, to industrial pollution, to lawn care chemicals, to windows and glass buildings (which attract birds to collide with reflections), to predatory pets, to wires to loss of crucial habitats. So many birds have been killed by DDT alone – and it is still being used.

When the Americans finally noticed that their national bird, the Bald Eagle, was disappearing due to DDT, they banned it. We have lost all our birds of prey because DDT does a lot more than just kill insects. It impacts birds of prey to such a degree that it causes their eggs to weaken so that they can’t hatch.

Our consumption of fish is killing all the shore birds. With sonar fish finders and GPS technology, fish harvesters are decimating swordfish, tuna, and a host of other “food species” as our world population swells to 7 billion.

Make a New Year resolution that goes beyond not smoking, drinking and being nice to your mother/daughter in law. Start by making your house less toxic and by eating organic wheat/dal/rice. Plant as many fruit trees as you can so that birds have somewhere to nest. Choose a village and see if you can help them clean up their water body.

More, resources: 


Channeling Monty Python: “The border between India and Pakistan is closed for the day”

September 7, 2011

BBC map showing location of Wagah and Punjab

BBC map showing location of Wagah and Punjab, divided between Pakistan and India, south of Kashmir

Written accounts cannot possibly do justice to the ceremonies that mark the daily close of business at the border between India and Pakistan.  I had understood it was quite a good show, rivaling the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

But, you don’t expect Monty Python to break out at these affairs, do you? Here’s a video of the ceremony as it was conducted prior to July 2010, I believe, which I found at Wimp.com.  It’s a video clip from BBC Worldwide, narrated by comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(If that one doesn’t work, try this one — a bit lower quality video):

(Or, here’s a shorter, YouTube version of Baskar’s film.)

Where in the world is this?  It’s in a town and area called Wagah, in Punjab, divided between India and Pakistan since the 1947 independence of those nations (links to Wikipedia left in for your convenience).

Wagah (Punjabi: ਵਾਘਾ, Hindi: वाघा, Urdu: واہگہ) is the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan[1], and lies on the Grand Trunk Road between the cities of Amritsar, India and Lahore, Pakistan. Wagah itself is a village through which the controversial Radcliffe Line was drawn. The village was divided by independence in 1947. Today, the eastern half of the village remains in the Republic of India while the western half is in Pakistan.

While both nations and local residents fully recognize the silliness, it also stands as a symbol of the deep divisions between the two nations.

The Wagah border, often called the “Berlin wall of Asia”,[2] is a ceremonial border on the India–Pakistan Border where each evening there is a retreat ceremony called ‘lowering of the flags’,[3] which has been held since 1959.[4] At that time there is an energetic parade by the Border Security Force (B.S.F) of India and the Pakistan Rangers soldiers. It may appear slightly aggressive and even hostile to foreigners but in fact the paraders are imitating the pride and anger of a Cockerel.[1][5][6] Troops of each country put on a show in their uniforms with their colorful turbans.[7] Border officials from the two countries sometimes walk over to the offices on the other side for day to day affairs. The happenings at this border post have been a barometer of the India-Pakistan relations over the years.[1]

Did someone say “Pythonesque?”

Here’s Michael Palin narrating another view of the ceremony for one of his BBC enterprises, Himalaya with Michael Palin:

Would you be surprised to hear that local people refer to this as “the dance of the roosters?”

Events at this crossing reflect some minor easing of tension between the two nations in the last decade, and in 2010 both nations announced they would tone down the retreat ceremonies. Surely some scholar has analyzed this retreat ceremony and its history, to determine whether it helped ease the tension, or increased the conflict between the two nations.  Could soldiers who participate in such goings-on actually shoot at each other?

Has anyone got a more recent viewing of the ceremony?

How will you explain this to your sophomore world history class?  Is there anything sillier than humans in conflict?

Video via VodPod.

An astonished tip of the old scrub brush to Judith Shields.

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Typewriter of the moment: Godrej & Boyce, the last manual ever made

April 30, 2011

Can this be correct?

The Daily Mail in London reports that the last manufacturer of manual typewriters in the world, Godrej & Boyce of India, is shutting down production.

Is this the last manual typewriter ever to be made?

Godrej and Boyce, Prima, the last manual typewriter manufactured in the world

The Prima, from Godrej & Boyce; in India, the last company making manual typewriters is closing down

According to the Daily Mail:

It’s an invention that revolutionised the way we work, becoming an essential piece of office equipment for the best part of a century.

But after years of sterling service, that bane for secretaries has reached the end of the line.

Godrej and Boyce – the last company left in the world that was still manufacturing typewriters – has shut down its production plant in Mumbai, India with just a few hundred machines left in stock.

Although typewriters became obsolete years ago in the west, they were still common in India  – until recently.  Demand for the machines has sunk in the last ten years as consumers switch to computers.

The company’s general manager, Milind Dukle, told India’s Business Standard newspaper: ‘We are not getting many orders now.

‘From the early 2000s onwards, computers started dominating. All the manufacturers of office typewriters stopped production, except us.

‘Till 2009, we used to produce 10,000 to 12,000 machines a year. But this might be the last chance for typewriter lovers. Now, our primary market is among the defence agencies, courts and government offices.’

The company is now down to its last  200 machines – the majority of which are Arabic language models.

The firm began production in the 1950s – when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described the typewriter as a symbol of India’s emerging independence and industrialisation. It was still selling 50,000 models annually in the early 1990s, but last year it sold less than 800 machines.

The first commercial typewriter was produced in the U.S. in 1867 and by the turn of the century had developed into the  standardised format – including a qwerty’ keyboard – that we know today.

Say it ain’t so, Mr. Christopher Latham Sholes!

Godrej & Boyce manufactures several different technology products in its conglomerate of factories — but the typewriter is already gone from their website’s listing of company products.

Electric typewriters will continue to roll off of foreign assembly lines, for companies like Swintec and Brother.

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Beginning, beginning of the end, end of the beginning, end

January 30, 2011

January 30 is a momentous date, according to the AP list of events that occurred on this day.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Beginning: Franklin Roosevelt, the only president of the U.S. to break the tradition of getting elected to two terms only, was born on January 30, 1882,  in Hyde Park, New York.  (Both Ulysses Grant and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to break the two-term tradition  before.)  Roosevelt served at the 32nd president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  During his first term the date of presidential inaugurations was moved from March 21 to January 21, partly in appreciation for the period of time the nation drifted seemingly deeper into depression between Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933.  Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, won election as New York’s governor in 1928, and then won the 1932 presidential race.  His death on April 12, 1945, pushed Harry Truman into the presidency for three years before he had to face the electorate.

End of the beginning: On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany.  A World War I veteran, Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government. Hitler was seven years younger than FDR, but their careers occasionally coincided on key years.  Hitler’s assuming power in January gave him a two-month jump on FDR; at the time, few people, if anyone noticed the coincidental rise, nor could see the significance of the events of the year.  According to The History Place:

Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.

Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January 30th, Hitler was sworn in.

“I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people, protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially and with justice to everyone,” swore Adolf Hitler.

Democratic-based government in Germany was doomed for the foreseeable future.  Few foresaw that.

Beginning of the end: On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese new year celebration known as Tet, Vietcong and North Vietnamese army regulars kicked off the Tet Offensive, striking targets all over Vietnam simultaneously.  Caught nearly completely by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces lost control of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital for a time.  While the U.S. and South Vietnamese eventually won these many battles and pushed out the invading forces,  the simple fact that the thought-to-be-decimated forces of Ho Chi Minh could pull of the offensive at all sent the chilling message that victory in this guerrilla did not yet belong to South Vietnam and the U.S., nor had a tide been turned.   After tumultuous elections in the U.S., Richard Nixon’s presidency could not turn the tide, either.  A “peace” was negotiated, mostly between North Vietnam and the U.S., in 1973, but it did not hold.  In 1975 relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam hit crisis again, and the U.S. pulled out the last forces left in South Vietnam in April.  Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces defeated the rapidly dissipating military of the South, and the country was united under communist, North Vietnam rule.

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

An end: Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse shot and killed Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, on January 30, 1948.  Gandhi was known as “Mahatma,” which means “Great Soul.”  Gandhi campaigned for India’s independence and end of British colonial rule for most of the 1920s, including a period of time in prison for subversive activities.  Gandhi’s great contribution to political change is the massive use of non-violent, non-cooperation.  Non-violent tactics tend to highlight the moral positions of groups in conflict, and make the non-violent side appear to have the stronger case.  Such tactics expose hypocrisy and despotic government rules.  Though he resigned from his political party in 1934, Gandhi remained a key icon of the drive for India’s independence.  When violence broke out over the Mountbatten plan to grant independence in 1947, creating two nations of Pakistan and India divided along religious, Gandhi again appealed for peace, but became the most famous victim of the religious violence that still roils the region today.  Committed to peace and non-violence, Gandhi himself did not ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps because his life was cut short.  His work inspired other Nobel Peace laureates, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Nelson Mandela (with Frederik Willem deKlerk, 1993), and U.S. President Barack Obama (2009).

On January 30, 2011, much of the world holds its breath, watching events in North Africa, including especially Tunisia and Egypt.  Which of these traditions will today follow, to peace, or toward war?


DDT hoaxsters predictably spinning India/malaria deaths story — wrongly

October 28, 2010

People so wedded to a hoax, or just wrong, view of events cannot be swayed away from their convictions easily.

Elizabeth Whelan’s hoax science policy group, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), put out a press release taking note of the study published in Lancet that calls into question the count of malaria deaths in India promulgated by the World Health Organization (WHO).  You remember, the study suggests the malaria death toll among adults in India may be as high as 200,000 annually, compared to the 15,000 estimated by WHO.

ACSH can’t resist the spin.  Implicit the debunking may be, but the study thoroughly debunks ACSH’s claim that more DDT will help defeat malaria.  India is the world’s greatest user of DDT, using more than all the rest of the world together.  Clearly a surplus usage of DDT has not created the miracle end to malaria that ACSH and other hoaxsters claim it would.

Still, ACSH sticks to their views, even when those views are grossly wrong.  ACSH said, “ACSH has called for resumed use of indoor residual spraying of small amounts of DDT to prevent mosquito bites, repel mosquitoes, and reduce malaria deaths.”

No word from India on whether it will dramatically reduce DDT use to meet ACSH’s call for “small amounts.”

ACSH’s press release calls attention to a Wall Street Journal Blog article describing WHO’s response to the Lancet-published study of India malaria deaths — WHO questions the “verbal autopsy” methodology, and says it stands by its estimates of malaria deaths in the nation:

“The new study uses verbal autopsy method which is suitable only for diseases with distinctive symptoms and not for malaria,” WHO’s India representative Nata Menabde said in an email statement Thursday.

The WHO says it takes into account only confirmed cases of malaria and surveys those using healthcare facilities.

Malaria symptoms include fever, flu-like illness and muscle aches. Malaria is endemic to parts of India, where many people live in mosquito-infested areas. Confirming the presence of malaria requires tests like the “Peripheral Smear for Malarial Parasite” and “Rapid Malaria Antigen”.

Lancet said the determinations made by its field researchers were reviewed by two of 130 trained doctors for all the 6,671 districts who determined whether or not the person had died from malaria.

The data concluded that 205,000 deaths before the age of 70, mainly in rural areas, were caused by malaria each year – 55,000 in early childhood, 30,000 among children ages five to 14 and 120,000 people 15 and older.

The WHO called for further review of the study.

“Malaria has symptoms common with many other diseases and cannot be correctly identified by the local population,” Dr. Menabde said, adding: “The findings of the study cannot be accepted without further validation.”


Called this one right: DDT advocates think poison is always the answer

October 25, 2010

This is a story about the persistence of bad information, and about the flow of news and other new information.

At about the same time I was writing about the Lancet study on potential undercounting of malaria deaths in India, Debora McKenzie at New Scientist pored over the same article (maybe the same Bloomberg News piece), and reported it in greater detail than I did here.  McKenzie’s piece is worthy of a read.

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit picked up on McKenzie’s piece — but reflecting his pro-poison and anti-humanitarianism bias, he tacked on a gratuitous slap at health workers, scientists and governments who tried to eradicate malaria in the 20th century:

MALARIA KILLING MORE PEOPLE THAN WE THOUGHT?

Malaria has always been one of humanity’s biggest killers, but it may be far bigger than we realised. An unprecedented survey of the disease suggests that it kills between 125,000 and 277,000 people per year in India alone. In contrast, the World Health Organization puts India’s toll at just 16,000.

Other countries using similar accounting methods, such as Indonesia, may also be underestimating deaths from malaria. That means it could be killing many more than the WHO’s official estimate of nearly 1 million people a year worldwide, suggesting more money should be spent to fight it.

It’s too bad the malaria eradication efforts were allowed to fail.

“Allowed” to fail?  Reynolds assumes someone wanted the program to fail?  Reynolds assumes someone could have stopped the failure, other than the pro-DDT forces who overused the stuff and drove mosquitoes to evolve resistance, or other than the governments of Subsaharan Africa who could not mount massive health care campaigns due to the instability of their governments?  It’s too bad the program failed — it was mighty ambitious.  “Allowed to fail” is an undeserved slap at malaria fighters like Fred Soper.

This slip to finger-pointing is what I warned about in my post:  Though India is the world’s greatest manufacturer of DDT, and though more DDT is used in India today than the rest of the world combined, someone will look at the undercount story, blame the imaginary ban on DDT, blame Rachel Carson (who never advocated a ban on DDT), and make some smug political snark.

Reynolds was pulled away from the snark, fortunately.  Reader Kevin O’Brien wrote to Reynolds about  the difficulties of beating any disease, using smallpox as his launching point.  Beating smallpox was a massive effort, made easier by the fact that the pox resided only in humans, as opposed to the malaria parasite’s two-species life cycle.  O’Brien’s missive to Reynolds, a few errors included, is the best commentary Reynolds has had on DDT and disease in some time.

One frequently-obnoxious blogger pulled back from the brink is not enough, though.

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt jumped the shark at his blog for the Melbourne (Australia) Daily Sun.  The headline for his post is inflammatory and wrong, and warns us that most of what Bolt writes will be wrong:

How many children did Carson’s green lies kill?

Foolish hope that DDT could be a magic bullet against malaria, like Bolt’s,  helps frustrate workable plans to fight the disease.  Policy makers being convinced that some political conspiracy keeps DDT from working to beat malaria, in effect kills children.  Fighting malaria requires long, hard work, to bolster health care systems in entire nations, to accurately and quickly diagnose malaria, and to provide complete treatment to cure human victims.  That work is hampered by policy makers and popular opinion who hold that DDT would be cheaper and quicker, and effective.  Bolt takes any source, no matter how scurrilous, in his unholy condemnation of conservationists and scientists, especially Rachel Carson.  His sole source to condemn Carson is a publication from the far, far-fringe.

How many children will Bolt’s brown lies kill? one could ask.

I warned earlier:

Watch.  Advocates of poisoning Africa and Asia will claim scientists and environmental activists are somehow to blame for any underreporting, and they will call for more DDT use, claiming a ban has made India a refuge for malaria.  Those reports will fail to mention India’s heavy DDT use already, nor will they suggest an ineffectiveness of the nearly-sacred powder.

Andrew Bolt, you’ve made me a prophet — a saddened and disappointed prophet.  It’s good to see Glenn Reynolds step back from the brink of hysteria.  It’s too bad Bolt took the plunge.  Others will probably follow Bolt.

How far will the bad claims spread?


Malaria deaths in India under-reported? Bad news for pro-DDT partisans

October 22, 2010

Nature graphic: News report on Lancet study that suggests mortality from malaria in India may be significantly higher than WHO reports indicate.

Nature graphic: News report on Lancet study that suggests mortality from malaria in India may be significantly higher than WHO reports indicate.

Good news from the war on malaria has been that annual deaths are calculated to be fewer than 1 million annually, as low as 880,000 a year — the lowest human death toll from malaria in human history.

Researchers in India suggest that deaths there are grossly underreported, however — not the 15,000 estimated by the World Health Organization, but closer to 200,000 deaths a year, nearly 15 times as great.

Reading that news, DDT partisans might get a little race of the pulse thinking that this might improve the urgency for the case for using more DDT, as advocated in several hoax health campaigns and media, such as the recent film “3 Billion and Counting.”

The problem, though, is that India is one of the few places where DDT manufacturing continues today, and India is one of the nations where DDT use is relatively unregulated and heavy.  In short, if DDT were the miracle powder it’s claimed to be, any finding that malaria deaths are 15 times greater than reported by WHO is nails in the coffin of DDT advocacy.

Bloomberg News reported:

Researchers based their estimate on interviews with family members of more than 122,000 people who died between 2001 and 2003. The numbers “greatly exceed” the WHO estimates of 15,000 malaria deaths in India each year, the researchers wrote in the study, published today in the journal The Lancet.

“It shows that malaria kills far more people than previously supposed,” said one of the study authors, Prabhat Jha of the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, in a statement. “This is the first nationwide study that has collected information on causes of death directly from communities.”

Remote regions may have an undocumented malaria burden, because conventional methods of tracking the disease are flawed, according to the authors. In India, the government malaria data, which is used by the Geneva-based WHO, only counts patients who had tested positive for the disease at a hospital or clinic. Others who died of symptoms closely resembling the malady but didn’t get a blood test aren’t included, co-author Vinod Sharma of the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi said in an interview today.

The lack of accurate data may hinder efforts by governments and aid organizations to provide diagnosis and treatment to the population at risk, the authors said.

Watch.  Advocates of poisoning Africa and Asia will claim scientists and environmental activists are somehow to blame for any underreporting, and they will call for more DDT use, claiming a ban has made India a refuge for malaria.  Those reports will fail to mention India’s heavy DDT use already, nor will they suggest an ineffectiveness of the nearly-sacred powder.

The article in the Lancet became available on-line on October 21 — it’s a 4.5 megabyte .pdf document:  “Adult and child malaria mortality in India: a nationally representative mortality survey.” A team of researchers is listed as authors of the study:  Neeraj Dhingra, Prabhat Jha, Vinod P Sharma, Alan A Cohen, Raju M Jotkar, Peter S Rodriguez, Diego G Bassani, Wilson Suraweera,Ramanan Laxminarayan, Richard Peto, for the Million Death Study Collaborators.

Accurate counts of infections and deaths provide essential information for effective programming of the fight against the disease.  Researchers point no particular fingers, but make the case in the article that better methods of counting and estimating malaria deaths must be found.

There are about 1·3 million deaths from infectious diseases before age 70 in rural areas in which fever is the main symptom. If there are large numbers of deaths from undiagnosed and untreated malaria in some parts of rural India then any method of estimating overall malaria deaths must rely, directly or indirectly, on evidence of uncertain reliability from non-medical informants and, although our method of estimating malaria mortality has weaknesses, indirect methods may be even less reliable. The major source of uncertainty in our estimates arises from the possible misclassifi cation of malaria deaths as deaths from other diseases, and vice versa. There is no wholly satisfactory method to quantify the inherent uncertainty in this, and indeed the use of statistical methods to quantify uncertainty can convey a false precision. However, even if we restrict our analyses to deaths immediately classifi ed by both physician coders as malaria, WHO estimates (15 000 deaths per year at all ages)1 are only one-eighth of our lower bound of malaria deaths in India (125 000 deaths below the age of 70 years; of which about 18 000 would have been in health-care facilities).

Our study suggests that the low WHO estimate of malaria deaths in India (and only 100 000 adult malaria deaths per year worldwide) should be reconsidered. If WHO estimates of malaria deaths in India or among adults worldwide are likely to be serious underestimates, this could substantially change disease control strategies, particularly in the rural parts of states with high malaria burden. Better estimates of malaria incidence and of malaria mortality in India, Africa, and elsewhere will provide a more rational foundation for the current debates about funding for preventive measures, about the need for more rapid access to malaria diagnosis, and about affordable access in the community to effective antimalarial drugs for children and adults.

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India today, in photos

August 3, 2009

Geography teachers, get out your PowerPoints and Keynotes.

Photo of life in Delhi, India.  From a collection by Belgian photographer Frederik Buyckx, 2009

Photo of life in Delhi, India. From a collection by Belgian photographer Frederik Buyckx, 2009

Thought provoking, occasionally breath-taking photos from a 6:00 a.m. walkaround in Delhi, India; Belgian photographer Frederick Buyckx promises more photos from his recent trip to India and Pakistan, at his blog.

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Basic climate skeptic’s pseudoscience

March 7, 2009

Anthony Watts want to make a case that rising ocean levels aren’t connected to human activities, there’s nothing we can do about it, there’s nothing we should do about it, or something.  Looking for a touchstone in history, Watts said:

In 2002, the BBC reported that a submerged city was found off the coast of India, 36 meters below sea level.  This was long before the Hummer or coal fired power plant was invented.  It is quite likely that low lying coastal areas will continue to get submerged, just as they have been for the last 20,000 years.

Submerged city?  Hmm.  Not in the textbooks published since 2002.  What’s up with that?

NASA Earth Observatory photo of the Gujarat Gulfs, including the Gulf of Cambay (Khambhat), where a lost city was thought to have been found in 2001; later research indicates no city underwater.

NASA Earth Observatory photo of the Gujarat Gulfs, including the Gulf of Cambay (Khambhat), where a "lost city" was thought to have been found in 2001; later research indicates no city underwater.

Oh, this is what’s up:  Watts links to a BBC news story, not a science journal — one of the warning signs of Bogus Science and Bogus History, both.   The news story talks about preliminary findings in 2002 that did not hold up to scrutiny.  Measurement error was part of the problem — the pattern of the scanning radar sweep was mistaken for structures found on the sea floor.  Natural formations were mistaken for artificial formations.  When the news announcement was made, archaeologists and other experts in dating such things had not be consulted (and it’s unclear when or whether they were ever brought in).  The follow-up didn’t support the story, notes Bad Archaeology.  Terrible archaeology to support pseudo climate science?  Why not?

This doesn’t deny Watts’ general claims in his post, but it is too indicative of the type of “find anything to support the favored claim of denial” mindset that goes on among denialists.  (There is evidence of a much lower waterline in the area during the last ice age; water levels have risen, according to physical evidence, but probably not inundating the what would be the oldest civilization on Earth.)

It will be interesting to watch what happens.  Will Watts note an oopsie and apologize, or will the entire group circle their Radio Super wagons around the issue and call it a mainstream science plot against them?  Will Watts correct his citation, or will they move on to cite the disappearance of Atlantis as evidence that warming can’t be stopped?

Anybody want to wager?

What sort of irony is there in a guy’s complaining about a scientific consensus held by thousands of scientists with hundreds of publications supporting their claims, and his using one news report almost totally without any scientific corroboration in rebuttal?

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Suicide attempt with DDT

January 31, 2009

DDT advocates argue that DDT is harmless to humans.  Generally they base the claim on DDT’s low carcinogenicity in humans — it’s suspected of being a weak human carcinogen.

Frequently DDT advocates will point to the late Dr. Gordon Edwards’ grandstand sipping of a teaspoon of prepared DDT before lectures on the stuff.

Hard reality:  It’s a poison.  Comes this report from the Times of India:  A despondent woman tried suicide by DDT.  DDT is indeed a poison for humans.

The woman is in serious condition in a hospital.

AMRELI: The spate of suicides in the diamond industry continued as the wife of a diamond worker attempted suicide on Wednesday in Mini Kasbavad area of the city. Ruksana Pathan, 33, is battling for life at the government hospital here.

According to officials of Amreli police, Ruksana tried to end her life by consuming DDT powder when her husband and four children were away. She was rushed to the hospital here, where her condition is slated to be serious.

“Ruksana was depressed ever since her husband Taufiq Pathan, a diamond worker, was rendered unemployed after closure of diamond units,” said a police official. “As the family’s financial situation worsened, Ruksana attempted to kill herself,” the official said.

Kids, don’t try the Gordon Edwards stunt.  DDT is poisonous, as the skull and crossbones on the old label would indicate.


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