Rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars or more. Source: Wikipedia/Creative Commons
(First published on Nov. 30, 2017, on State of the Planet.)
In Utuado, a town in the hills of central Puerto Rico, “very little works.” That’s what Delsie Gandia, a resident, told me several days ago via email during a rare opening when she could connect to the internet.
Since Hurricane Maria’s 150-plus mph winds scoured the island into a mass of rubble and smashed infrastructure on Sept. 20, residents have been showering in the rain and washing clothes by hand with spring water, she said. Electricity had been restored to Utuado proper, but, said Gandia, “As I write, we have been plunged in darkness once again.” Roads are washed out or blocked by debris; damage to the local communications tower and unreliable power hampers phone and internet services. Many people were cut off from relief, emergency health care and other services. Utuado’s mayor, whose rural home was destroyed in the storm, hacked his way into town with a machete, she was told.
“My impression was that all systems collapsed,” she wrote. “The government simply couldn’t cope.” (Gandia, an economist and a relative of mine, has studied the economic and environmental impacts of global warming since the 1970s.)
Horses near Lake Dali, in Inner Mongolia. Scientists studying the lake have concluded that the size of the lake has changed dramatically over the distant past, due to changes in the climate and resulting shifts in the annual monsoon. Photo: Yonaton Goldsmith
(First published on Feb. 6, 2017, on State of the Planet.)
The annual summer monsoon that drops rain onto East Asia, an area with about a billion people, has shifted dramatically in the distant past, at times moving northward by as much as 400 kilometers and doubling rainfall in that northern reach. The monsoon’s changes over the past 10,000 years likely altered the course of early human cultures in China, say the authors of a new study.
(First published on Feb. 2, 2017, on State of the Planet.)
More than 85 percent of the ocean floor remains unmapped, leaving us in the dark about much of the earth’s topography. A global, non-profit effort will try to remedy that by 2030. The effort will affect everything from climate research and weather prediction to mineral resource exploration and fisheries.
(First published on June 16, 2016, on State of the Planet.)
A new initiative aims to help homeowners in New Jersey cope with arsenic contamination in private wells—a problem that has only come to light in recent years, and about which many homeowners are still unaware.
In a series of fact sheets and student-produced videos, the project provides important information about the problem to help homeowners understand what may be going on, and how to clean up their water. To watch the videos and read up on the problem, go to the New Jersey Arsenic Awareness Initiative website.
Osman Ghani, 60, and his wife Rehana Begum, 50, both suffer from arsenic-related health conditions. They live in Balia village, in the Barisal District, south of Dhaka. A Human Rights Watch investigation found many villagers have little or no access to health care for such conditions. Photo: © 2016 Atish Saha for Human Rights Watch
(First published on April 7-8, 2016, on State of the Planet.)
Two decades after arsenic was found to be contaminating drinking water across Bangladesh, tens of millions of people are still exposed to the deadly chemical. Now a new report from the group Human Rights Watch charges that this is in part because the nation’s government “is failing to adequately respond” to the issue, and that political favoritism and neglect have corrupted the government’s efforts.
The report says Bangladesh’s health system largely ignores the health impacts of arsenic exposure. An estimated 43,000 people die each year from arsenic-related illness in Bangladesh, according to one earlier study. But the government identifies people with arsenic-related illnesses primarily via skin lesions, the report says, although the vast majority of those with arsenic-related illnesses don’t develop them. Those exposed are at significant risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease as a result, but many receive no health care at all.
“Bangladesh isn’t taking basic, obvious steps to get arsenic out of the drinking water of millions of its rural poor,” said Richard Pearshouse, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The government acts as though the problem has been mostly solved, but unless the government and Bangladesh’s international donors do more, millions of Bangladeshis will die from preventable arsenic-related diseases.”
Sailing out from Seward.
Note: The following story was reported and written in 2007, for The Hartford Courant. Editors there declined to run it. I like the story anyway, and pretty much everything it says has been repeatedly validated by subsequent scientific research. It’s still going on – even in Connecticut. I’ve added a couple of notes in brackets in the text where updates seemed appropriate. — DF
SEWARD, Alaska — The Glacier Express chugged out of Resurrection Bay, and the blowing rain turned to sleet that lashed across the upper deck. White clouds shrouded the dark gray mountains that drop steeply into the sea.
This had been one of Alaska’s coldest and wettest summers. As they headed toward Kenai Fjords National Park, passengers aboard the sightseeing boat, some wrapped in fleece and rain gear in mid-August, had good reason to wonder what had happened to global warming.
But Alaska, frontierland of huge landscapes and volatile weather, is indeed warming. In the past 50 years, the state’s annual average temperature is up as much as 5.5 degrees. Overall, the Arctic region has warmed almost twice as fast as the rest of the world.
The greenhouse gas problem fueled by our crowded and busy civilization affects this remote region now, directly and in many ways — including fading sea ice, melting glaciers, thawing permafrost and changes in habitats that have been the same for thousands of years.
But this is not Alaska’s problem alone. The effects of warming in Alaska and the rest of the Arctic will reverberate all over the globe.
Even in Connecticut.
By Kevin Krajick and David Funkhouser
International health experts have called it the largest mass poisoning in history, and it is still underway. Some 100 million people in southeast Asia have been drinking from shallow wells originally drilled to provide germ-free water; but many turned out to be contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic.
Despite efforts to understand the natural processes at work, and provide safer water, many are still being poisoned, due to scant resources, poor information at local levels, and the sheer numbers of people and wells involved. The result: a slow-burning epidemic of heart disease, cancers, lung problems and compromised child development.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Mailman School of Public Health have been on the front lines of the issue since 2000. They are currently leading a wide range of initiatives, including long-term health programs, continued drilling of safer wells, education and continuing investigations into the geology of arsenic contamination.